Reviews — November 9
I vaguely recall watching the war epic “Revolution” on cable TV in the 1980s and feeling instinctively that it was a turgid mess. It starred Al Pacino at the height of his fame, and was directed by Hugh Hudson, who was at the helm of “Chariots of Fire.” A variety of factors – including, of all things, ridicule of Pacino’s painstakingly researched accent – left it in the dust of 1985’s crowd-pleasing blockbusters “Back to the Future,” “Rambo II” and “Rocky IV.”
Fast-forward to 2009: Warner Bros. allows Pacino and Hudson to recut the film (which they felt had been released before it was finished to their liking) with new narration, a new ending and a few minutes excised. I watched the new version recently, and while I can’t say I loved it, I admired it enough to recommend it. It’s a gorgeous piece of work that effectively de-romanticizes the Revolutionary War, and it’s more in synch with our unsettled times than it was in the 1980s.
Pacino is effective as a trapper pulled into the war along with his son. “Revolution” is the antithesis of Mel Gibson’s gung-ho “The Patriot” – grittier, darker and more visually poetic. It’s one of several Pacino films that have been eclipsed (for different reasons) by his “big” movies. There’s no shortage of film treatments of the Civil War, but for reasons I don’t pretend to understand, the war that launched the United States is rarely tackled. This one deserves another chance.
“Revolution Revisited” (1985/2009) Directed by Hugh Hudson. Starring Al Pacino, Nastassja Kinski, Donald Sutherland, Joan Plowright, and Sid Owen. The DVD includes an interesting conversation with Hudson and Pacino. 115 minutes. Rated PG for violence.
“The Variations” is the story of Father Dominic, some of his flock and his small parish, which is slated for closure by the Catholic Church.
There aren’t many surprises in this book; in fact, you may feel you’ve read parts of it before. For instance, I could predict what would happen to Dolores, a disenfranchised teen, as soon as she came on the scene. The pianist (whose focus on Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” gives the book its title) and his demanding teacher are fresher characters.
But “The Variations” raises some interesting points, particularly as Dom struggles with his commitment to the Church (shaky) versus his commitment to ministering to people in need (unbreakable).
Dom, orphaned as a child, literally grew up in the church. Becoming a priest seemed less a calling than an expectation. It’s the only life he knows.
Yet while he’s a natural at helping others, Dom also is deeply flawed. He drinks excessively. Just after learning the parish will likely close, he’s picked up for drunk driving -- possibly not for the first time.
I wish author John Donatich had pursued this storyline, but it remains unresolved. Maybe he’s saving it for another novel.
Instead, as “The Variations” continues, Dom takes a sabbatical so he can consider whether to remain in the priesthood. The six-month break gives him time to explore worldly living, and he jumps headlong into dating, sex and moving in with his girlfriend.
At 45, Dom still is a mental adolescent when it comes to relationships — another interesting storyline that I would have liked to have seen explored more fully, but instead the author focuses more on the bedtime mechanics.
There’s a lot to like about this book, and that just makes its flaws stand out even more. And it’s simply not as well-written as it should be.
It meanders from past to present tense within the same paragraph on numerous occasions. Here and there, words are used oddly and incorrectly. And in the second part, there’s a dearth of commas, as if the printer didn’t have enough ink left.
It all makes the book I checked out of the library feel more like a proof copy.
Despite these reservations, I’d recommend “The Variations.”
“The Variations,” by John Donatich, Henry Holt and Co., 2012.