The moment young Finn (Ethan Hawke) sets eyes on Estella (Gwyneth Paltrow), she becomes his inspiration"¦and his obsession. Despite being warned, "She’ll only break your heart," he vows to win her love. Years later, thanks to a mysterious benefactor, aspiring artist Finn is off to New York, where he is reunited with the icy and beautiful Estella. When she agrees to model for him, Finn's dearest hopes may at last be realised – along with his darkest fears.
We're warned at the beginning of Great Expectations that this tale is not going to be told the way it happened, but the way the hero, Finn Bell – Ethan Hawke – remembers it. So this is not Charles Dickens' Great Expectations or even a remake of David Lean's 1946 classic. It's a modern riff on the much-loved story.
As a boy in Florida, Finn, here played by Jeremy James Kissner – has a traumatic experience with escaped convict Lustig – Robert de Niro. Soon after this Finn's rather basic existence with his sister Maggie and her boyfriend Joe – Chris Cooper – is given an added dimension, a rather faded but romantic dimension, when he's hired by eccentric old Ms. Dinsmoor – Anne Bancroft – to be a part-time companion to her niece Estella. As an adult Estella – Gwyneth Paltrow – remains elusive although it's no secret that Finn, a budding artist is in love with her... Suddenly Finn is given a chance to develop his career as an artist in New York and reunite with Estella.
I must be one of very few people in the English-speaking world who haven't read Great Expectations, so I had none. Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron who made A Little Princess has given an operatic quality to this story of a grand and enduring passion, the music intrudes dramatically as does the cinematography with extensive use of close-ups. With some films I really mind that but with this, it seemed to fit. Anne Bancroft is a theatrical grand dame so early on we're introduced to larger-than-life characters in this larger than life story. Ethan Hawke is a bit wooden at the best of times and Gwyneth Paltrow will soon be getting the reputation of the ice queen, but as romantic icons in this theatrical piece of filmmaking they looked damned good, especially Paltrow in that wardrobe.