Director: Sidney Lumet
Writer: Peter Shaffer; based on his play "Equus"
Cinematographer: Oswald Morris
by Jon Cvack
Equus falls under the kid-talking-to-psychologist sub-genre made popular in the late 70s and 80s, with the most famous example being Ordinary People, which would go on to win Best Picture, followed up over a decade later with Good Will Hunting. It’s based off a play by the same name, in which a 17-year old boy Alan Strang (Peter Firth) stabs six horses in the eye with a metal spike. He’s sent to a hospital, where he’s interviewed by Dr. Martin Dysart (Richard Burton), who’s unable to take on anymore patients, but is willing to make an exception just this once.
The film is about forty-five minutes longer than it needed to be and is one of the most boring films I’ve seen compared to the accolade it’s received. Richard Burton hoped it would revitalize his career, which he completely failed in accomplishing. Given Lumet’s focus on crime, I was excited to check out his attempt at a more traditional drama. Perhaps the problem was the formula, and though predating Ordinary People, you still see where it’s going. There will be resistance from Strange, eventually a major breakthrough, and we’ll then discover the horrific truth. It makes you appreciate that the complete lack of flashbacks in Good Will Hunting.
While I understand and appreciate Strang’s peculiar theology and the homosexual undertones, I just don’t think they were interesting. So the boy has a strange obsession with horses, can’t get it up with his new girlfriend, and goes off on a macabre rampage, stabbing horse eyes with a metal pick. My suspicion is that Lumet simply did a poor job of adapting the material for the screen. In fact, Daniel Radcliff recently reprised the role, full front nudity and all (a first for a mainstream film, in Lumet’s case). There were critics who resented that Lumet opted to show the stable’s carnage rather than relying on Strang’s unreliable narration. Personally, I just don’t care. By the time the final scene came I was so bored I just wanted the film to end as quick as possible.
BELOW: Richard Burton does the best he can with the little he was provided
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