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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Titanic

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet
Director: James Cameron
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 194 Minutes
Release Date: December 1997
Genres: Action, Romance, Drama

*Also starring: Billy Zane, Kathy Bates, Frances Fisher, Gloria Stuart, Bill Paxton, Bernard Hill, Jonathan Hyde, Victor Garber

Review by MrBrown
4 stars out of 4

Over $200 million in production costs; a problem-plagued shoot; a missed release date; a cast without a major star; and a three-hour-plus running time. A recipe for disaster? Not in the hands of writer-director James Cameron. His much-talked-about, much-anticipated Titanic has finally set sail, and unlike the ill-fated oceanliner that lends the film its name, this absorbing, moving cinematic spectacle not only floats, it soars.

It is ironic that so many modern dollars were spent in service of what is, at its core, a very old-fashioned romantic epic. Set mostly aboard the titular cruise ship during its singular voyage in 1912, Titanic documents, in flashback, the forbidden romance between penniless artist Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) and the well-bred Rose Dewitt Bukater (Kate Winslet), who is quite unhappily betrothed to wealthy snob Cal Hockley (Billy Zane). The nature of Jack and Rose's relationship is fairly conventional--free-spirited Jack enables the constricted Rose to come alive--but the simple purity adds to the couple's charm. Cameron wisely takes his time to build this romance; by devoting the first couple of hours (and a very fast-paced two hours at that) to its development, he allows DiCaprio and Winslet (both terrific in what should be star-making turns) to develop a natural, affecting rapport with each other and, more crucially, the audience.

One can use all the superlative adjectives--"extraordinary," "spectacular," et al.--to describe the centerpiece crash-and-sink (which comprises the bulk of the film's final hour), yet no words can ever come close to accurately capturing the truly awesome experience of watching the Titanic take its final plunge. Unlike the previous high-budget record holder, the inane would-be action "epic" Waterworld, every last dollar spent on Titanic is visible on screen, from the 90-percent-to-scale model of the ship and rushing torrents of water to the ever-so-subtle visual effects that multiply a cast of hundreds into thousands. But for all its technical achievement, what gives the disaster (and the entire film) its powerful charge is the emotional investment the audience has with the people--not just Jack and Rose but also the minor players, a number of whom manage to carve out distinct, endearing identities during the course of the film. A sinking ship is just that without characters the audience cares about on board; by the time the ship makes its fateful collision, the film is no longer so much about a ship that sinks than it is about living, breathing human beings who, as one of the film's taglines goes, "collide with destiny."

The enduring and healing power of love, the strength of the human will, living for the moment--these are a few of the themes Cameron covers, but instead of coming off as blatantly preachy (which, in some of his previous films, he comes dangerously close to), he addresses these issues with careful subtlety, expressing them mostly through the characters and their actions rather than explicitly written dialogue (with the exception of a few words of wisdom dispensed by Jack). One of the best examples of this is the framing device for the main on-ship action: modern-day scenes in which an aged Rose (Gloria Stuart) tells her story to an expedition crew (led by Bill Paxton) searching for a legendary blue diamond called the Heart of the Ocean. A lesser filmmaker would use these scenes as little more than decorative bookends, but in the end Cameron molds them into a relevant subplot about man's selfish and greedy nature.

Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis earned long-overdue respect from the Academy and critics alike with 1993's Schindler's List and 1994's Forrest Gump, respectively; with Titanic, a sumptuous epic as emotionally powerful as it is technically phenomenal, fellow hitmaker James Cameron is now set to receive his just due.

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