A period-set parable of the eponymous Irish hero's various triumphs and tragedies at the hands of fate, its taken me a while to fully assess what I feel about Barry Lyndon. After 4 attempts at perceiving its greatness, I've finally reached a conclusion. Kubrick fans be warned: It isn't a pretty one...
It has to be said that Kubrick's much-touted composition is often beautiful beyond belief. Many scenes feel remarkably similar to Renaissance paintings: A sumptuous piece of artistry frozen in time. Several of the images crafted here make the movie well worth watching once and combined with the rousing drum-beats of the dueling scenes we get rare pieces of effective pacing with construct tension with clear, if primitive, skill.
That being said I did specify feel for a reason. Solaris explored The Hunters in the Snow to incredible effect and yet here with what is effectively a moving painting Kubrick might as well have all his actors sit in place throughout for how engrossing their actions are. Barry Lyndon is plagued with immobile scenes with throttle the already glacial pacing, the worst offender being the final duel which drags on for unforgivable tedium and worse still attempts to create either suspense or dread of the inevitable and yet fails to achieve either.
The story itself is rife with cinematic moments ripe for the picking and yet Kubrick chooses instead to progress his story from a distance that breeds a brutal coldness which kills off any sense of drama Barry Lyndon could lay claim to. Its a deadly disconnect between audience and characters which paradoxically makes this 3 hours spent in the intimate company of Sir Redmond Barry heartless and as a result hopelessly dull.
Barry Lyndon seems to try and emulate Tarkovsky: Attempting to flow through slow scenes and beautiful set-pieces and in doing so wanting to take for granted that we will be moved. The difference is that Tarkovsky meticulously weaves a subliminal perfection so that each gorgeous sequence and steady long-take seamlessly flows within the film. The abundance of slow zooms and refusals to cut within Kubrick's work leave Barry Lyndon's method painfully obvious on the screen. Its grand designs are ruined by their monotonous over-use and whilst I don't in any way loathe the movie, I certainly won't be watching it again.