In “Worst Best Picture” we search every single Best Picture Oscar winner of all time from 1927 to present to uncover the worst of them all. Conventional wisdom says that 2005’s winner Crash is the worst winner in history. We won’t stop until we’ve tested every last one. Read the the first, our review of Crash, here. Posts will be relatively spoiler free, but there may be some details revealed. Today’s installment is the 1982 winner Gandhi. Is it better than Crash?
There’s kinda a lot going on in Gandhi. It’s an extremely detailed look at the man himself, but it’s also a broad morality play about race’s role in war and government. Gandhi has become history’s symbol for peace through resistance, and while the movie about his life is definitely interested in telling that story, it also wants to complicate the character a (very) little bit, which is ambitious.
When we look for a stand-in for evil we find Hitler, and Gandhi has become just as iconic of a symbol for good. It’s challenging to tell the tale of how someone became so good that we use him as a replacement for the very idea of goodness, and it’s even more challenging to do so any not come off a little bit preachy. Most of the modern reviews seem to take issue with how preachy it is, but I don’t see it. You can’t tell the history of “goodness” without being talking about how good the guy was. If it’s preachy to say that Gandhi wanted a better world and worked for it, well, then maybe I don’t mind that kind of preaching so much.
In the first five minutes, Gandhi is shot and killed. It then cuts back to his youth and spends three hours working up to his own death. Gandhi spent his life fighting against British rule of India, and while successful in one regard, his fame and success led him to be the face of many other resistance movements. He was never able to make everyone happy with every decision, and his inability to reconcile the different groups within India cost him his life. It’s a fairly straightforward portrayal, aside from the time jump after his murder.
Your enjoyment of Gandhi will depend on how complicated you want your biopic to be. Patton does a better job of this, for my money, and it’s a superior film because Patton in Patton is complex. He’s dark and misunderstood, but he’s also heroic and powerful. The only real diversions from “Gandhi was the greatest guy in history” are some youthful boasting and some mild run-ins with his wife. Gandhi likes the spotlight, but the movie doesn’t paint that solely as pride. I don’t know how much they really need to show the dark side of Gandhi, but it feels a little slight at times as a result. It’s possible that there’s no badness to show, and I’m taking issue with Mohandas Gandhi for not having enough faults. Jerk!
It’s a little difficult to talk about because there isn’t much to it beyond Ben Kingsley’s Oscar-winning role. He’s exceptional and the movie feels huge with a cast of hundreds of thousands, but nothing really sticks beyond him. Martin Sheen is totally out of place as a journalist covering Gandhi’s early life and a Life magazine reporter towards the end is even sillier. Other than Kingsley, there’s nothing really to talk about with regard to the acting. He’s everywhere, and the Patton comparisons continue because he consumes the screen in every shot. It’s really a lifetime role, and it’s especially strange to see right after Schindler’s List because his two roles are so different.
It’s worth your time, I think, but any review that says “it’s what you think it is” is also true. Gandhi is the story of Gandhi, and it doesn’t really go much deeper than that. They clearly wanted to, and Kingsley brings out just how truly annoying Gandhi must have been, which is worthy of note. Some of the sweeping shots of hundreds of thousands of people are breathtaking, but whether that justifies a three-hour run time or not, I don’t really know.
The Best Part: I touched on it briefly, but I want to restate here: Gandhi is annoying. It’s really a great choice to portray the man most consistently identified with “resistance” as being difficult to deal with. He’s a gifted leader and a man on a mission, but he’s also tough as hell to deal with.
The Worst Part: There is a lot of filler here. The movie opens with a shot that apologizes for leaving out so much of the life of Gandhi, but I can’t imagine what their ideal cut would look like, because it’s already painstakingly detailed. There’s nothing at all that comes from a 10-minute scene with a reporter from Life, but it happened to Gandhi, so it’s left in.
Is It Better or Worse than Crash? The scene where a line of men all take a beating, one after another, in honor of the spirit of one of history’s greatest men is iconic and will endure in your mind long after you see Gandhi. The only scene like that in Crash is where Ludacris talks about coffee and spaghetti, because you will wonder why he wants coffee with spaghetti for the rest of your life.
Worst Best Picture Archives: Crash | Terms of Endearment | Forrest Gump | All About Eve | The Apartment | No Country for Old Men | Gentleman’s Agreement | 12 Years a Slave | The Last Emperor | The Silence of the Lambs | The Artist | A Man for All Seasons | Platoon | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King | The King’s Speech | Rain Man | The Departed | The Bridge on the River Kwai | Marty | Gigi | It Happened One Night | Driving Miss Daisy | Shakespeare in Love | Wings | Midnight Cowboy | Rocky | Gone with the Wind | Chicago | Gladiator | Cavalcade | The Greatest Show on Earth | You Can’t Take It With You | The Best Years of Our Lives | The Godfather | Casablanca | Grand Hotel | Kramer vs. Kramer | The French Connection | In the Heat of the Night | An American in Paris | Patton | Mrs. Miniver | Amadeus | Crash, Revisited | How Green Was My Valley | American Beauty | West Side Story | The Sting | Tom Jones | Dances with Wolves | Going My Way | The Hurt Locker | The Life of Emile Zola | Slumdog Millionaire | The Deer Hunter | Around the World in 80 Days | Chariots of Fire | Mutiny on the Bounty | Argo | From Here to Eternity | Ordinary People | The Lost Weekend | All the King’s Men | Rebecca | A Beautiful Mind | Titanic | The Broadway Melody | The Sound of Music | On the Waterfront | Unforgiven | Million Dollar Baby | My Fair Lady | Hamlet | Braveheart | Oliver! | The English Patient | Lawrence of Arabia | Cimarron | One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest | All Quiet on the Western Front | The Great Ziegfeld | Out of Africa | Schindler’s List | Gandhi
Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @alexbad.