Lawrence of Arabia

Lawrence of Arabia ★★★★★

“What is it, Major Lawrence, that attracts you personally to the desert?”

“It's clean.”

The epic tale of a kinky, self-loathing sadomasochist chasing his own death across the desert; an enigmatic character study painted in richly detailed tableaux set against a vast backdrop of tribal warfare and colonialist greed. Unmatched in its scope and visual grandeur, Lawrence of Arabia is one of the most impressive films ever made – every shot feels enormous, the three-and-a-half-hour runtime easily stretched to four as I had to keep rewinding to linger on all of the breathtakingly composed imagery and staggering landscapes. Honestly, this thing could’ve gone on for an extra hour and I wouldn’t have minded, the pace is fantastic with the final act especially containing numerous riveting battle sequences and character moments that are still seared into my brain.

Going into an older epic like this there’s always a fear that it will turn out dull and unapproachable; a product of its time that, in retrospect, doesn’t have much to offer contemporary audiences beyond a dry history lesson and some nice mise en scène. Lawrence of Arabia blows those fears away in its first ten minutes – this is an incredibly fun, engaging and emotionally complex film, as cinematically gripping as the best modern action spectacles and as dense an examination of pathology and self-destruction as the best of Paul Thomas Anderson or Martin Scorsese. Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson’s screenplay is quick-witted and exciting without losing sight of its rich psychological undertones (so much great dialogue here), Maurice Jarre’s score is one-of-a-kind immense and Peter O'Toole gives maybe the best male performance of the entire 1960s, exuding off-kilter charisma that inexorably devolves into a frightening mania as he is egged into the role of conqueror by both his own ego and the scheming of his superiors in the British Army. Peerless, even for its era; movies simply do not get bigger or better than this.

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