By Kim Hollis
December 15, 2009
Along with the two leads, there are a number of actors who should be recognized. Foremost among them is Victor Garber, who has limited screen time in a crucial role as Thomas Andrews, the designer of the Titanic. I remember when I saw the film back in 1998 that above everything else in the movie, his performance stuck with me. I always think of the moment where he checks his watch and sets the clock in the first-class smoking room as a defining one in my movie-viewing lifetime. He's been one of my favorite actors from that day, and I'll watch him in anything.
Also terrific is Kathy Bates as the Unsinkable Molly Brown, a first-class passenger who is disdained by others because she is "new" money rather than a long-time member of society. She's buoyant and upbeat, and propelled forward by a moral code that is admirable. Bernard Hill portrays Captain Edward John Smith, the man at the helm of the ship, and his fall from grace is exceedingly sad. I was also surprised to see Ioan Gruffudd in a tiny role as Fifth Officer Harold Lowe. Perhaps it's because he's able to use his natural Welsh accent here, but he's surprisingly excellent in the limited screen time he has (of course, this could be because his character is one of the best, most heroic people in the film).
The story is framed in such a way that we're told the history from Rose's point of view, and I think this is a successful device for imparting the emotion and themes Cameron is aiming for. At the beginning of the movie, treasure hunter Brock Lovett (Bill Paxton) and his crew are hell-bent on finding the priceless Heart of the Ocean, and they're even a little crass when describing the Titanic's sinking in front of her. By the end of the film, as she closes out the tale, we see that they view the story differently. No longer do they think of the Titanic as something to profit by. Instead, it's a sunken ship steeped in a sad history that meant the end of life for more than 1,500 people.
Additionally, I like that Titanic does show us some of the neglect that contributed to the tragedy. It's not limited to one man - instead, any number of people can be faulted for the actions they did or did not take with regard to their role in the construction of the ship or the voyage itself. With a little more care and a lot less pride, the sinking of the Titanic is an event that might have been avoided.
Of course, even with the all the good in the film, there are a few things that must be criticized. The first, of course, is the bloated run time. People often make the joke that the boat actually sank more quickly than the film's three hour and 15 minutes, but the thing is, it's the truth. I do think there are elements of the film that could be cut, though I recognize that to do so would likely eliminate some of our connection to the characters.
Also, and this has become more troublesome for me in the years since the events of 9/11, I get a little squeamish about watching this real-life tragedy unfold on the screen in front of me. Cameron is quite detailed in the film, and we see people falling to their deaths, getting crushed by pieces of the ship, or freezing in the ocean. Sometimes, it feels like Cameron has crafted the movie as a big roller coaster ride, and that just doesn't feel appropriate. I understand that he wishes to immerse us in the experience, but it just feels wrong somehow.