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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 17.65%
Average: 5.88%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 8.82%

2 reviews, 56 user ratings

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by dionwr

"One performance that makes it worthwhile--but what a performance!"
4 stars

Richard Attenborough's greatest film is held up like a tent on the tentpole of Ben Kingsley's superb performance as the title character, the prophet of non-violence who was central to liberating India from its British overlords. If not for Kingsley, no one would remember this film, or ever watch it.

Attenborough is of the well-meaning sort that believes making a film about important events and people will automatically instill greatness on his film, too. But this is magic thinking, and making art isn't that easy.

The film covers the public life of Mohandas K. "Mahatma" Gandhi. As a naive young lawyer in South Africa, Gandhi was shocked to discover, after a sheltered upbringing, the racism and oppression that the British Empire practiced in its colonial states. After becoming a public figure in South Africa fighting against that, he went back to India. After some time becoming re-acquainted with the country of his birth, he emerged as a leader of the movement for India's freedom. Using his tactics of non-violent confrontation of authority, the Indians finally compelled the British to leave.

The problems of the film are entirely problems of Attenborough's unfocused direction. Attenborough, caught up in the many and fascinating incidents of Gandhi's life, is content to merely show them all and let the viewer sort it out. There's no more dramatic focus than in a Sunday school passion play.

When I first viewed this film, way back at a press screening prior to its initial release in 1982, the projectionist dropped a reel just after intermission, so I saw the film with twenty minutes missing. Some friends and I discussed the odd jump-cut that had occurred, but none of us realized until the film opened and we saw it again that we'd missed anything substantial. Any time you can cut out twenty minutes of a film and not even miss it, something is seriously wrong with the film.

In the immortal words of Jean-Luc Godard, a film should have a beginning, a middle and an end, though not necessarily in that order. "Gandhi" does not. It's a string of incidents that are not glued together by any compelling view or narrative. It's just things that happened.

As bad as the dramatic lack of focus is, the historical context is handled even worse. With his great cast of British actors passing through the film, it becomes an historical pageant, where the average viewer will sit back and wonder what in hell is going on. Okay, it's about Gandhi--but wasn't there anything else going on in India at the time? Wouldn't it be helpful to understand his life if we understand what some of the other characters are thinking? Ever?

An example of this is the assassination of Gandhi. The film opens with that and then flashbacks to his life. After the triumphal procession the film presents his life as being, it's disconcerting when he's killed, and you wait, vainly, for an explanation of why it happened, what the motivations of the killer are. It never tells.

And yet it does have an impact. A man with no wealth, no political office, and no great power led a movement to great political change though a policy of non-violence and by providing a moral example. The incidents are moving, and you belive them because you believe Ben Kingsley, who is superb in the title role. From a young man in his late 20's who is thrown off the train in South Africa to the slightly sly old man murdered by a fanatic just after independence has been achieved for India, you believe him every step of the way.

And there are slight flashes of good individual scenes, which maddeningly don't tend to build on each other, as you want good drama to do. But the memorable scenes stick with you: James Fox as a thuggish British army officer who had his men open fire on a civilian crowd without warning, admitting his actions with no concern or sympathy for the victims; Gandhi as an arrogant young man being thrown off the train in South Africa, Gandhi re-emerging in India at a convention, telling his fellow progressives to stop fooling themselves; and, best of all, the scene with a fanatic in 1947, when India was being partitioned into India and Pakistan.

The man has been carried away in blood-lust during the riots, and is convinced he is going to hell. Gandhi looks at him and tells him he knows a way out of hell. In this one mesmerizing scene, you get a better sense of Gandhi's personality and real wisdom than in almost all the rest of the film, and a stronger feeling of why people followed the man.

Sometimes, one great scene can redeem even a bad film, and this film isn't bad, merely so-so. But its great scenes and great performances make it very much worth seeing, even while you keep wishing David Lean had been in charge rather than Attenborough.

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originally posted: 09/08/03 16:50:24
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User Comments

9/06/17 Ken Ben Kingsley is amazing in this film! 5 stars
7/21/15 J.R. A film not to be forgotten; I wish Ben Kingsley starred in more lead roles after this film. 5 stars
5/15/11 Marisa It was a good movie, but very long and confusig at times. It was a good adaptation of his l 4 stars
6/01/09 Krishna It is a great movie.It is a great tribute to the Great man! I am proud of being an Indian! 5 stars
1/31/09 hardfact we need more films like this 5 stars
12/05/08 Shaun Wallner Wonderful Story! 5 stars
3/11/08 action movie fan a total bore 1 stars
1/27/08 Pamela White Gandhi shows there is a way and non-violence pisses people off. 5 stars
8/05/07 sanjay gandhi was an asshole...... nathuram was the real hero who killed that basterd 1 stars
6/24/06 paras sexy 5 stars
1/05/06 John Dog Strong Best Picture Winner of 1982. 5 stars
10/12/05 mJ_rAmOs16 its kinda boring yet interesting..... 3 stars
9/09/05 anoop a toching film showing the hardships mahatma had faced during independence and after that. 5 stars
12/23/04 goatfarmer one of the best films of all time 5 stars
11/26/04 choppermc Brings to light what one can do when not in fear of anything. 5 stars
11/18/04 roxana hope the most wonderful film woth reviewing all life 5 stars
11/03/04 Sumanth amazing movie 5 stars
10/07/04 B-anne Nice movie 5 stars
5/19/04 Pinkline Jones Kingsely in his underpants not a good look 1 stars
5/13/04 Vacha well made and interesting, yet a bit slow paced... 4 stars
4/17/04 alien assassin a film we should all see. 5 stars
3/24/04 julie this movie is too long 3 stars
12/14/03 movieman Awesome movie. 5 stars
12/09/03 Gray a movie that we should see in school 5 stars
10/26/03 thejames you will either enjoy this mover or you are retarted. 5 stars
9/11/03 filmfatale Long and boring but fascinating at the same time. 4 stars
8/26/03 I Would I didn't like the anti-English bias, but apart from that, this is brilliant film making. 5 stars
8/12/03 Donald Hasselhoff Not enough violence 3 stars
4/21/03 defranco71 An excellent epic. 5 stars
2/23/03 Hello there Excuse me, Pinkline Jones. I think you are wrong. But, this is the best movie ever made. 5 stars
1/24/03 Pinkline Jones Blatant rip off of "Dude Where's My Car" Kingsley Looks more Spanish that Indian 1 stars
1/19/03 Hi there One of the best movies ever. 5 stars
12/17/02 rotten s. milk Winner of 8 Academy Awards including Best Picture. 5 stars
10/23/02 Long live The revolution Fuck that bastard Gandhi Pussy cant fight asshole He did not deserve a movie on his name. 4 stars
10/18/02 Jay Ben Kingsley was in his perfect role as Gandhi! That's why he deserved his Oscar! 5 stars
10/10/02 Justin Winner of 8 Academy Awards including Best Picture! 5 stars
1/20/02 chort a very good epic. kingsley is outstanding. too much credit given to some of the anglos, pla 5 stars
11/09/01 Moises Valadez One of the last of the great epics, the new epics suck. 5 stars
11/03/01 h fuck that bastard gandhi 1 stars
8/28/01 Sam Parts are confusing if you don't know the a little about the history of Gandhi. 4 stars
8/11/01 vineetha CLASSIC 5 stars
7/28/01 Henry Ginsberg I wouldn't have known it was Kingsly if his name hadn't been in the credits . 5 stars
3/16/01 Jennifer I had to watch this movie for my global studies class and it was great. 5 stars
2/24/01 Candice The director made me realize the hardships Gandhi faced. He was a strong man. 5 stars
1/16/01 R.W. Welch Meticulous, well-acted docudrama, suffers from lethargic pacing at times. 4 stars
12/20/00 Stephani It was a good movie 5 stars
11/28/00 Cristopher Revilla the greatest biography adaptation ever made 5 stars
11/20/00 Karin Sarwold it was a great movie, and gandhi deserves credit for all he went through for india 5 stars
11/15/00 Danielle Excellent movie 5 stars
10/31/00 Dino The best movie ever made in the world 5 stars
10/17/00 ap great 5 stars
7/22/00 preethi nallu The movie makes me proud of the fact that I was born in the same country as bapuji 5 stars
4/18/00 mladen its bullshit 1 stars
3/01/00 Ionicera glossing of history (but how many "epics" aren't guilty of that), somewhat shallow, biased 3 stars
11/30/99 Mic Great film, but I wouldn't recommend it to everyone. 5 stars
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  02-Jul-1982 (PG)
  DVD: 20-Feb-2007

  02-Feb-1983 (PG)

  02-Feb-1983 (PG)

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