The Crucible (1996)

22 Apr

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Smith’s Verdict: *1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

I’ve read the original play “The Crucible” by Arthur Miller for English class in the eleventh grade. Maybe it was just my sixteen-year-old mind, but I didn’t find it riveting or powerful at all. I just found it dull with unbelievable characters and a dreadfully confusing storyline. (OK, I didn’t say that, but you get the idea.) So why should the film adaptation of “The Crucible” be any different? It’s an obnoxious, dull experience that didn’t move me in any way.

It starts to go wrong at the first scene. The setting is Salem, Massachusetts in 1692, the year of the Salem Witch Trials. So with the guidance of women in Salem, how in the world did they get out of their homes unnoticed to share a ceremony in the woods in the middle of the night? This is a Puritan society and these women dance naked together around a fire. The scene is mentioned in the play, but put offstage. That was a wise decision. It made us ask if what they were talking about was true. And since we see this scene early on, I was bored already.

And then the story develops, like the play, into a series of false accusations of witchcraft, religious hysteria, and sexual lust. The town minister’s niece Abigail (Winona Ryder) is accused by an ill little girl of practicing witchcraft, and soon, the whole town is in an uproar. At the center of the story is a good man named John Proctor (Daniel Day Lewis). When Abigail was his servant girl, he committed adultery with the wench. Soon after, Abigail was thrown out by John’s wife Elizabeth (Joan Allen) and she never lets John forget their moment. She is out to cause misery for this man and John regrets their affair. He would love saucy, little Abigail to go away.

And so would I. Winona Ryder is a good actress, but she doesn’t create a credible presence here at all. She is painfully miscast here. And sadly, so is Daniel Day Lewis, who looks like he would rather be somewhere else, and is not particularly compelling as the lead role.

Soon, a witchhunter—Judge Danforth (Paul Scofield)—is brought to town to judge the trials of witchcraft that just about everybody, including Reverend Parris (Bruce Davison, not believable here at all), believes to have been practiced by the midnight frolickers. But as these trials continue and evidence is disappearing, Danforth’s patience is tested. He wants someone to be punished, whether someone is guilty of witchcraft or not.

All of this leads to a climax that I didn’t buy at all because I knew which of the characters are guilty and innocent, and frankly, I didn’t really care. There are only two characters in this movie that I find credible, three of which are well-acted—Joan Allen as Elizabeth Proctor; Paul Scofield as Judge Danforth; and Karron Graves as Mary, one of the women suspected of using witchcraft. They do very well at remaining plausible in this improbable situation. The other characters are stiff, unbelievable, and annoying. How annoying? About 85% of dialogue in this movie is panicked shouting. I wanted to yell at the screen to the characters, “Shut up!” That’s how “The Crucible” worked for me. I never wanted to yell that to any other movie, even though there are much worse movies than this one.

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