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Of Mice and Men: Special Edition (1992)

Gary Sinise has a face that registers a weed-thin hunger for something it seems he'll never attain. An actor of great depth, his intense blue eyes can narrow and glare with either menace, as when he played the kidnapper in Ransom (and thus was the only interesting character in the movie), or with lamentation, as in Forest Gump. Whether gentle or violent, Sinise's roles belie a psychological haunting that, no matter how obvious his predicament (e.g. Vietnam), he remains mysterious. Which works excellently in his portrayal of the cranky humanitarian George in 1992's Of Mice and Men, an adaptation of John Steinbeck's famed novella. Like it or not, Steinbeck's tragic tale is such a part of our cultural history that is has spawned three movies — one glorious 1939 Lewis Milestone picture with Lon Chaney Jr. and Burgess Meredith; one 1981 made-for-TV movie with Robert (then Bobby) Blake and Randy Quaid (guess who played who in that one); and Sinise's own 1992 version, which he directed with the permission of John Steinbeck's widow. Faithful to the book and as moving and funny as it should be, Sinise's version rates right up there with Milestone's — it's curious why Sinise (who also made 1988's Miles from Home) hasn't directed since. Adapted by Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist Horton Foote, who won Academy Awards for his screenplays for To Kill a Mockingbird and Tender Mercies, Of Mice and Men is so competently Steinbeckian that one might be tempted to write it off as a "seen that before" type of movie. But if you haven't seen this one, then you haven't seen it with Sinise and one of the hammiest actors in the business — John Malkovich, who plays against type superbly as the half-wit Lenny. Movie fans are so used to Malkovich's diabolical characters that watching him portray a mentally retarded character brings the novel back afresh, with the jarring sensation of not knowing whether to laugh or cry at a person whom our parents told us to pity. The story concerns George and Lenny, two ranch hands who travel to California for work after the retarded (and soft-fetishist) Lenny gets the pair kicked off a ranch for petting a lady in a red dress a little too hard. As most know, Lenny loves to pet soft things — mice, puppies, and especially bunny rabbits, which he hopes to raise with George when they get their dream house together. The cranky George feels responsible for Lenny, but he's not altogether nice to him — not because he's inherently mean, but because he wants to Lenny to understand life's hard realities. With their new job in California, things appear rosier. But then, the inevitable happens, which — knowing the book — you can't stand to see (although without the book this would be a beautifully shot, written, and acted episode of Little House on the Prairie). The supporting cast is fine, including Sherilyn Fenn as the gorgeous, bored temptress whom you wish George could get just one shot at. The chemistry between the two is highly charged, mostly because Sinise plays a man who, with Lenny as his lumbering human baggage, has to pay for sex if he gets any (which again reinforces the tragic beauty of George and Lenny's relationship). Sinise was born to play George, and his handsome, mournful, stern face works perfectly against Malkovich's broad, sputtering man-child. Like Cameron Diaz and her retarded brother in The Farrellys' There's Something About Mary, George's life revolves around Lenny in frustrating but often-hilarious ways. In fact, Steinbeck could have influenced the Farrellys; just as the Salinas, Calif. novelist mused (though more tragically), retarded people are often a kick to be around. But you better watch it if you make fun of them. MGM's Of Mice and Men: Special Edition is their second DVD release of the film, replacing an earlier bare-bones disc. Features on Side One include a commentary from director Sinise and the theatrical trailer, while Side Two offers a "conversation" between Sinese and scenarist Horton Foote (21 min.); nine deleted scenes with optional Sinise commentary, including an alternate ending; make-up tests (11 min.); screen tests with Sherilyn Fenn (7 min.), and a "making-of" featurette (6 min.). Keep-case.
—Kim Morgan

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