Take 3: To Kill a Mockingbird Review

Before I start this review, I’d like to remind everyone that Thursday, April 9th, is the last day to cast your vote for the Best Supporting Actor of the 2nd Annual Gold Sally Awards! The next poll will be posted on the April 10th! Here is the link to the poll:

Now it’s time to choose the Best Supporting Actor of 2020’s Gold Sally Awards!

Originally, I had planned on reviewing To Kill a Mockingbird for Pure Entertainment Preservation Society’s A Month Without the Code Blogathon. Since The 2020 Classic Literature On Film Blogathon was given an April participation date and because I was reading To Kill a Mockingbird at the time of the event’s announcement, I decided to review the film adaptation a lot sooner than I expected. For years, I had heard great things about the novel. The now famous quotes have been plastered all over the internet, sounding deep and thought-provoking against backgrounds of characters’ pictures from the film. No literary list would be complete without To Kill a Mockingbird’s inclusion. What caused me to pick up a copy, and eventually see the movie, was the trial where Atticus defends Tom Robinson. This situation taking place in a time that is very different from today brought up a lot of questions. How would Atticus approach the case? Was Tom innocent? How different was the court system back then? For a while, this book was sitting on my bookshelf, waiting for the day when it would be read. Because of this blogathon, the day to read the book and see the movie has finally come!

To Kill a Mockingbird poster
To Kill a Mockingbird poster created by Brentwood Productions, Pakula-Mulligan, and Universal Pictures. Image found at commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:To_Kill_a_Mockingbird_(1963_US_theatrical_poster).jpg

Things I liked about the film:

The acting: In my review of Mystery 101: An Education in Murder, I talked about how the characters in that movie appeared as if they came from real-life. This is partly the result of the quality of the actors’ performances. The aforementioned strengths are shared by both films. While watching To Kill a Mockingbird, I noticed how all the performances felt realistic. The actors brought enough emotion and animation to their roles, in order to bring their characters to life. I enjoyed watching the performances in this film. However, the two standouts came from Collin Wilcox Paxton (who portrayed Mayella Ewell) and Brock Peters (who portrayed Tom Robinson). Even though they appeared on screen for a limited amount of time, they were able to bring so much emotion and power to their roles. These elements allowed Collin and Brock to elevate their characters as well as the source material.

How the source material was presented: Looking back on the book, the story itself was 20% about the trial and 80% about the “slice of life” perspective Scout offers to the readers. This imbalance is what caused me to not enjoy the book as much as I had expected. The film’s creative team makes an effort to create a balance between these two ideas by removing scenes that would have felt like padding. In the book, the majority of a chapter is devoted to the Halloween carnival/play and what caused that event to take place. The movie, however, only shows Jem and Scout arriving and leaving the school. The way some scenes were presented in the movie highlighted Atticus’ abilities as a lawyer more effectively than in the book. When Atticus to talking to Scout about compromises and trying to see things from another person’s perspective, the scene places more emphasis on Atticus himself delivering the message, showing the values he follows as a lawyer. In the book, it feels like these lessons are rehashing information most readers already know.

Moments of suspense: There were some scenes containing suspenseful moments that were periodically placed in the film. One of these moments takes place in the scene when Atticus visits Helen Robinson for the first time. While Jem is sitting in Atticus’ car, Bob Ewell drunkenly approaches the vehicle. Because this is the first time Bob is introduced on screen and because he is presented in a disorderly state, Bob’s decisions and actions are very unpredictable. Scenes like this one maintained the overall story’s intrigue. It maintained my investment in the film as well. These scenes featuring suspenseful moments also allowed the creative team to adopt story-telling elements like the use of shadows and dramatic music.

Classic Literature On Film Blogathon banner
The 2020 Classic Literature On Film Blogathon banner created by Paul from Silver Screen Classics. Image found at https://silverscreenclassicsblog.wordpress.com/2020/01/16/announcing-the-2020-classic-literature-on-film-blogathon/?wref=tp.

What I didn’t like about the film:

The trial taking place at a later time: As I said in the introduction, the trial where Atticus defends Tom Robinson is what made me want to read the book. When I did read it, I was disappointed to discover the trial itself took place sixteen out of thirty-one chapters into the story. In the movie, the trial appears at the halfway point. In this case, I fault the source material more than the film’s creative team. Even though I had to wait an hour for the trial to be presented on screen, the creative team did try their best to get to that point as soon as possible.

Some unclear details: Some details in this movie were unclear, especially if someone didn’t read the book before they saw the movie. In the book, Jem and Scout are introduced to Reverend Sykes when they attend Mass at Calpurnia’s church. When the trial takes place, they agree to sit with Reverend Sykes in the balcony section of the courthouse. Because the church service was omitted from the movie, there’s no clear explanation provided for how Jem and Scout know Reverend Sykes. It might have helped if details like this one were given some context.

The voice-over: The book is told from the perspective of an adult reflecting on their childhood. However, the movie presented the events as if they are taking place in “present-time”. Because of this decision, it allows the events to speak for themselves. This makes the voice-over seem like an unnecessary component. The voice-over was also not consistently included in the movie, causing its presence to not feel justified.

Law Justice Isometric Composition Icon
Courtroom image created by Macrovector at freepik.com. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/isometric”>Isometric vector created by macrovector – http://www.freepik.com</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

My overall impression:

There are very few times when I feel a film adaptation is better than its literary source material. In fact, the two previous instances that I can think of are Hallmark’s Hall of Fame’s The Beach House and Hallmark Channel’s Rome in Love. After watching To Kill a Mockingbird, I have now found a third adaptation to add to that list. I’m not a fan of “slice of life” stories, hence why I didn’t enjoy the book as much as I had expected. While these aspects of the “slice of life” story were incorporated into the movie, the creative team’s main focus was about getting straight to the point a lot sooner. The film’s visual nature worked in the favor of certain elements from the source material. Suspenseful moments in certain scenes are one great example. Reading about those moments in a book does cause a level of uncertainty. Watching them take place on screen makes those moments seem real and intensifies that uncertainty. If I had known my feelings about this movie before reading the book, I honestly would have skipped the book and gone straight to the movie.

Overall score: 8.1 out of 10

Have you read any classic literature? If so, did you see its film adaptation, if it has one? Let me know in the comment section!

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen

11 thoughts on “Take 3: To Kill a Mockingbird Review

    1. Thanks for reading my review, Patricia! I agree, the movie’s score was definitely one of the highlights of this project! Films do have a creative advantage over books in how they visually bring the story to life. While literature will always hold a place in society, films can be beneficial when it comes to story-telling.

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      1. Mockingbird was required reading for me in school, but I can’t remember much of it and it was a chore to get through it. The film was much more of an enjoyable experience. The sublime opening credits and fabulous score as well as Peck’s Atticus are some of the highlights for me. Great article comparing book to film! I enjoyed it.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks for checking out my review, Classic Movie Muse! As I told Tony, I was never required to read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. I do agree with you on those highlights, as those were some of the best components of the film!

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I’ve got a story about this one. We were “forced” to read To Kill a Mockingbird when I was in 7th grade (12 years old) and I hated it all the way. I hated talking about it in class, hated my mom yelling at me to read it at night and on weekends, hated the quizzes about it, I hated it all. Then fast forward to when I was 14 and on a hot Texas summer day, my dad offered to help our neighbor install ceiling fans in his house. So we went over, and while he and my dad hung one in the living room, I walked over to the sliding glass door and looked out into the backyard. I had grown up next to them but never been in their house, and as I’m looking out the back door, I looked over to our yard and began to see myself out there playing over the years. It sank in that I was seeing our neighborhood from their perspective, just as Scout realized she was seeing things from the perspective of Boo Radley. It was an odd, eerie feeling, and as soon as I got home I got my mom to take me to the library and I checked out To Kill a Mockingbird and read it again. Really read it. And throughout life I have always remembered that feeling, so it has helped me always remember when dealing with others, remember their perspective might be different than my own, and just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your story, Tony! ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ was never required reading for me, as I chose to read the book later in life. If I had read it sooner, I feel I would have gotten more out of the story. But that’s the great part about literature and film: there’s something for everyone!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Very interesting review. I’ve never read the book, but I’ve watched the film multiple times. Thanks for taking the time to illustrate the differences between book and film. BTW, Brian de Palma’s Carrie is another example of a film better than its source material: Stephen King’s book isn’t all that great.

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    1. Thanks for checking out my review and you’re welcome, Eric! I haven’t read any of Stephen King’s books, but I have seen several film adaptations based on his books. Out of the movies I have seen, I find myself drawn towards the stories that are grounded in realism.

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      1. I’m the same way. This is why my favorite King books are Dolores Claiborne and Misery, two books grounded in reality. The movie versions are great too. Minus the telekinesis thing, Carrie the book is pretty realistic. I think the famous 1976 adaptation benefits from Sissy Spacek’s and Piper Laurie’s brilliant performances.

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    1. Thanks for reading my review, J-Dub! It’s good to know I’m not the only one who feels this way about ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. This shows that when it comes to literature or film, there’s something for everyone.

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