review for Barry Lyndon on AllMovie

Barry Lyndon (1975)
by Mark Deming review

While not too well-regarded on its initial release, Barry Lyndon, like most of Stanley Kubrick's work, has stood the test of time as a dramatically compelling and visually stunning motion picture. Kubrick's retelling of William Makepeace Thackeray's novel has often been accused of moving too slowly for its own good, but if you allow yourself to slip into its admittedly deliberate rhythm, you'll discover an absorbing, complex, and dryly witty tale packed with sex, violence, gambling, war, family feuds, romantic betrayals, love, death, and all the other things that make historical dramas so much fun. Though no one has ever accused Ryan O'Neal or Marisa Berenson of being expressive actors, their limited emotional palettes work in their favor here; Kubrick structures the film so that the audience reads triumph and tragedy in the subtle emotional variations of his cast, allowing many of them to register onscreen as they never would otherwise. (And, in fairness to O'NEAL, Barry Lyndon is doubtless this actor's strongest and most expertly modulated performance.) And no one has ever contested Barry Lyndon's visual splendor. Attempting to recreate both the aesthetic style of 18th century paintings and the physical look of the period, Kubrick, cinematographer John Alcott, and production designer Ken Adam used authentic antique props and costumes to brilliant effect, and they lit their scenes with only natural sunlight or candles, for a look that no other movie has ever touched. The result is a film of singular visual style and beauty, and one of the richest and most evocative period pieces ever made.