review for Slaughterhouse-Five on AllMovie

Slaughterhouse-Five (1972)
by Derek Armstrong review

In tackling a big-screen adaptation of Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut's classic novel about a man who becomes temporally unstuck, director George Roy Hill and screenwriter Stephen Geller took on an unenviable task. Chief among their challenges was how to keep the viewer oriented within the story, when the protagonist himself is in a constant state of disorientation. As it turns out, following the scattershot rhythms of the novel works pretty well, provided the various timelines proceed forward more or less chronologically. The film shrewdly accomplishes this by using Billy Pilgrim's POW experience as a narrative through line, only mildly tempering Vonnegut's trademark structural wildness in the process. Michael Sacks gets Billy's essential passivity down perfectly. By lingering only temporarily in the moments of his life, Billy is rarely present enough to be anything more than an observer, a man without the spine to keep from getting cuffed around by life's bullies and hardships. However, Billy isn't tragic either; his gradual understanding of his own state of consciousness, provided by an alien race who keep him caged as a zoo attraction (with a Hollywood starlet as his companion), allows him to harmonize with the perpetual now-ness of the past, present and future. As the discussion thus far indicates, Slaughterhouse-Five is no walk in the part on a Sunday afternoon. Fans attuned to Vonnegut's unique wavelength and black humor are likely to get more out of the film than those coming in cold. However, a second viewing is well worthwhile if it means bringing the uninitiated on board with this original and finely crafted film, from a director in the midst of his creative peak.