review for Big Wednesday on AllMovie

Big Wednesday (1978)
by Donald Guarisco review

Film fans accustomed to typical John Milius fare like Conan The Barbarian and Red Dawn might find themselves confounded by this action-less drama, but it is well worth sticking with because it is the most personal and moving effort in his filmography. Despite its dramatic nature, Big Wednesday manages to be as grand as any of Milius' action films because it applies an epic sense of scope to what is essentially an intimate coming-of-age tale. It's a risky choice but Milius makes it work because he uses this epic richness to bring a grandeur to the lives of the characters that brings its themes of bravery , loyalty and personal honor into sharp focus: the world may change and it may wreak changes upon the film's young heroes, but their belief in these principles helps them to ride out the tumultuous twists and turns of adulthood. Milius is ably aided in this aim by dazzling work from his behind-the-camera crew, especially the gorgeous, sun-kissed cinematography by Bruce Surtees and a heart-tugging yet heroic musical score by Basil Poledouris. Big Wednesday's appeal is cemented by the perceptive and sensitive performances of its three leads: Gary Busey tempers his usual wild antics with a palpable sense of loneliness, William Katt turns in a subtle but dramatically rich performance as the most responsible member of the group and Jan Michael Vincent gives the film its heart with his stunning turn as the best and most troubled of the surfers. In short, Big Wednesday is not only John Milius' most ambitious film but also one of the unsung gems of 1970s American cinema. It's straight-faced sincerity and macho tone might not sit well with every viewer but it is well worth a look to any cult film fanatic interested in the best efforts of the 1970s 'movie brat' generation.