MOVIE: *** (out of 5)
DVD EXPERIENCE: ** (out of 5)
BY KEVIN CARR
WHAT IT’S ABOUT
Elia Kazan tells the story of young Stavros (Stathis Giallelis) who was born in the turmoil of ethnic conflict. Stavros takes a long journey through Greece and Turkey to eventually make his way to America for a better life. Facing racism, robbery, social conflict and murder, Stavros’ life is a fictionalized account of Kazan’s own family’s history.
WHAT I LIKED
“America America” was made almost 50 years ago, and it’s even more interesting to watch now as a historical piece. Most people look at problems of the world in a very narrow window of how it affects them contemporarily. However, looking back on the world of “America America” which is a half-century old and telling the story from more than a century ago, we see the problems of today are not very different from the problems of that time.
Directed with a mixture of restrained fly-on-the-wall examination of scenes and in-your-face dramatic action, Kazan allows the viewer to be removed from the film but also engage in the emotion of the moment. It’s one of the more visceral depictions of immigration without delving into current politics to deflect the drama of the film itself.
The 168-minute running time might be somewhat daunting for some people, but it’s worth making it through. Giallelis does a great job as the conflicted and rage-filled young traveler who wears many different hats in the course of his journey.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
I was raised in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio, so I had very limited exposure to the Old World immigrants from the past. Even today, the immigrants in my area tend to come from the Middle East, Asia and Latin America rather than Europe. Even my own family, who is Hungarian by blood, had much of its Old World elements Americanized by the time I made it into this world. So I feel that I miss out a little bit in the familiarity of the people presented in this film.
This, of course, isn’t a criticism of the film per se, and there is still plenty that people can get out of this film, regardless of their family history and their neighborhood experience.
While the only feature on this DVD is a commentary track by film historian Foster Hirsch, it is a pretty insightful commentary track, which chronicles not just the development and making of the film but also looks at the people – including director Elia Kazan and star Stathis Giallelis – who made it.
Sadly, “Conviction” has only a single special feature, which is a conversation with director Tony Goldwyn and the real Betty Anne Waters. Sure, this is interesting, but I really hoped for more, particularly something more objective to look at the original case.
WHO’S GOING TO LIKE THIS MOVIE
Anyone looking at the immigrant experience from the 19th century.