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:
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!
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.
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.
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!