Giant (1956) ★★★★★ 5/5
A sweeping epic. There is not much more one can say about Giant then that. This is a film of such great magnitude. This film is a powerhouse in every way imaginable. from the star power to the story. One can debate about what the film is actually about though as it coves so much territory. Is it the film of a man and his family? We are introduced to Jordan "Bick" Benedict (Rock Hudson) when he first meets Leslie Lynnton (Elizabeth Taylor). The two become married and move to his ranch where they start a family and we follow their lives. Is the film really about Jett Rink (James Dean) and his rise from a poor farm hand to an eccentric millionaire? We are introduced to him and watch him go from nothing to a nationally renowned tycoon. Are we really seeing his story and how it impacts the life of the Benedict family?
As far as plot, it is quite simple. The Benedicts are successful ranchers in Texas. They are proud of Texas, and proud people. Jett is their ranch hand, and when Jordan's sister, Luz (Mercedes McCambridge) dies, she leaves a small plot of land to Jett. Jett takes that land and begins to dig for oil. He strikes it big and becomes more wealthy then the Benedicts. Jordan loathes Jett and wants nothing to do with him. So, it becomes quite a shock later in life when his daughter Luz II (Carroll Baker) falls for Jett.
What is even greater in this film is the social changes that Leslie brings to Texas when she arrives from the East. Prior to arriving to Texas, she is a Virginian socialite. She breaks racial barriers when she tends to a sick baby in the Mexican village. She shows that animals can be broken by using respect rather then physical abuse. She makes politics a place for women and not just men. She is a strong woman, and as strong as Jordan is, he respects and loves Leslie enough to understand her. Leslie represents a coming of age for women's rights and helps to show how in a few generations, the way of life can be positively impacted by accepting the beliefs of those you love. Her openness to people and modern ways of thinking by those in comparison to what Jordin was accustomed to do wear off on Jordin and he adopts them as his own. This is apparent in two of the final scenes where his son, Jordan Benedict III's (Dennis Hopper) wife Juana (Elsa Cárdenas) is denied service in one of Jett's hair salons, and then again when Mexican customers are turned down at a diner.
Running well over three hours, the film can certainly drag on at points. This is not because it is dull or boring, but because we are simply not accustomed to sitting through one movie so long. If you can stick it out, it is a must see movie. The messages are subtly incorporated through the film so that when it come to the finale, we clearly see and understand that a change has been made. It is this ending that makes us realize that we are watching more then simply the story of a man's life. We are watching the evolution of man. We see how man's thinking can change. While it may take time, it happens, and perhaps a slower development of ones thinking makes for a greater impact when the time comes to fully understand and discover what you believe in. This fantastic movie was sadly the last for James Dean and a clear tribute to his incredible on camera persona. Sadly, he did not even live to see the release of this film. It is also fine acting by Rock Hudson who proves his range extends romantic comedies and commands the respect as a serious leading man. It goes without saying that Elizabeth Taylor is radiant in this film as she always is. She is charming as Leslie Benedict and it's hard to imagine anyone taking on this role but her. Through her acts of kindness on screen, it is very easy to relate to stories of her humanitarianism in her real life. A magnificent piece of work!