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Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Retro Review: Death Of A Salesman (1985)

Death of a Salesman
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, John Malkovich, Kate Reid, Stephen Lang, Charles Durning
Genre: Drama

Plot: Burdened by financial woes and distanced from his wife, Linda and his two grown sons, Biff and Happy, the increasingly unstable Willy dwells on various memories of his family & his career, as he looks back to find out what went wrong with his life 

'TV Movie Effort Which Deserved The Movie Set, Not Stage Set Treatment'

Produced by CBS, Death of a Salesman is a made- for- TV Movie that premiered in 1985 starring Dustin Hoffman and John Malkovich. It was released one year before Seize The Day, which starred Robin Williams, which was also another TV movie. In many respects, both films are virtually similar in terms of plot and story and share the same theme: ambition. In Seize The Day, Tommy Wilhelm is a struggling but also honest salesman trying to salvage what is left of his life, after being made redundant from his job. The film's story was mundane but thanks to Robin Williams, I still found it watchable.  

Based on a play written by Arthur Miller, Wiliam aka Willy Loman is a washed-up salesman, who is sad, lives a tragic life, who struggles to provide for his family, yet he has an attitude of a young man inside his old body. 

Unlike Seize The Day, Death of A Salesman is filmed and shot like a play for television and this adaption fits that bill. But had it been filmed like an actual film, its potential would have been slightly elevated, as well as fully realised. The fact that it is produced this way, it made the viewing experience rather difficult to sustain. The score that plays in the background becomes jarring every once in a while. Whilst the sets and the narrative style seeks to emulate the format of the play, they also detract from the film's enjoyment and the performances, as impressive as they may be. As a result, the effect it gives off is anything but deafening and thus, it made the story problematic for me to invest any thorough and concrete interest in. 

Dustin Hoffman is good as Willy and he puts on a gravelly voice and sounds like someone who had smoked too many cigarettes. He has a few watchable scenes and when he goes off in an office during one scene, he is too good. He does have a bit of a motormouth and talks a great deal. 

The casting sounded too good to be true with Malkovich as son, Biff, Durning and Hoffman - it's a tad of a shame, therefore, that the director opted to produce this film like a play. & with that, despite the explosive last 10 mins, I just didn't find it enjoyable and as entertaining as I would have, had it been a fully-fledged feature film or TV movie. Or be it a good TV movie. But like with all movies based on plays and books, the dialogue is well conceived. 

As much as I tried to, I just couldn't invest so much of my attention to this film due to the theatrical play format that Death of a Salesman adapts. It's also far too long and a good heavy chunk of it could have been easily lobbed off, and in doing so nothing of value would be lost. Also, having it filmed like a play restricts so much resonance it tries to project. I just felt the theatrical approach really stifled any potential this film would have fulfilled beyond the confines of a play & thus, it hampered my enjoyment.I am more used to the cinematic style, I love movies, I like the freedom of the characters moving about & getting from point A to B in different locations and films sets, more so than staged sets and I'm far less accustomed to the theatrical format - and so to discover this was more like a play and felt less like a movie, disappointed me. 

Final Verdict:

If I had to choose between this film and Seize The Day, without a shadow of a doubt, I'd choose the Robin Williams movie over this one. 

Death of a Salesman would have enamoured theatregoers everywhere, night after night, but under moviegoers and film audiences in general, whatever the type of impact it wanted to evoke here, is severely lessened - and this is much to its detriment. 


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