Film Review: Barry Lyndon (1975)

Release Date: December 11th, 1975 (London premiere)
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Stanley Kubrick
Based on: The Luck of Barry Lyndon by William Makepeace Thackeray
Music by: Leonard Rosenman, Ralph Ferraro (uncredited)
Cast: Ryan O’Neal, Marisa Berenson, Patrick Magee, Hardy Kruger, Diana Koerner, Gay Hamilton, Steven Berkoff, Andre Morell, Anthony Sharp, Philip Stone, Pat Roach

Peregrine, Hawk Films, Warner Bros., 185 Minutes

Review:

“Well then, look you now… from this moment, I will submit to no further chastisement from you. I will kill you, if you lay hands on me ever again! Is that entirely clear to you, sir?” – Lord Bullingdon

This is the only Stanley Kubrick film I had never seen, apart from his early documentary work. I always wanted to see this but I was intimidated by its length and usually, once I start thinking about Kubrick, I tend to go back to watching one of my three favorite films by him: 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange or The Shining. I often times mix in Dr. Strangelove and Eyes Wide Shut, as well.

I thought that I needed to see this, greatly, and that not having seen it already was a bit of a crime against myself, as I consider Kubrick to be one of the three men in my personal Holy Trinity of Directors. I do think I need to expand that to a Mount Rushmore of Directors, though, as there are really four at the highest level of craftsmanship that I always go back to, again and again. However, this isn’t about that.

This is a long, epic film but man, it’s pretty exceptional.

While I found it slow in parts and there were chapters in the story that weren’t as interesting as the best bits, I really enjoyed this and thought that if it were ever remade, it should definitely be expanded into a limited television series, as there’s just so much story. I have never read the book, though, so I’m not sure how much of it this film actually covered.

Still, this shows the entirety of a man’s adult life where he initially starts out as pretty likable but then slowly dissolves into a real piece of shit. The picture does a great job of showing you all the major events and turning points in his life, however, and it builds towards something quite incredible.

As should be expected, the cinematography is magnificent, as is the acting and the use of music.

In regards to the film’s score, Kubrick went a similar route to what he did with A Clockwork Orange in that he uses many classical masterpieces but often times uses distorted versions of them, which give off their own unique feel that does more for the tone of specific scenes than the visuals and the acting. If you’ve never seen this but are familiar with A Clockwork Orange, you probably know what I’m talking about. However, his use of altered classical works is more limited here and less noticeable, initially.

There is one character in this that you do grow to care about, as Barry Lyndon devolves into a pure prick, and that’s his stepson. Their hatred for each other climaxes in an old fashioned duel. It’s a fucking tragic scene where you can’t guess what’s going to happen and every single frame of film adds to the building tension in a way that I haven’t felt in a film in a really long time. It’s actually a breathtaking sequence that’s impossible to look away from.

They really don’t make movies like this anymore and honestly, it truly makes me appreciate this near masterpiece that much more.

Barry Lyndon is as great as I had always hoped it would be.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: other Stanley Kubrick films, as well as other epic, fictional biographical movies.