Aided by Arthur Miller's script, an adaptation of his own play, Nicholas Hytner's The Crucible captures a palpable sense of the hysteria and circular logic that damned 19 residents of Salem who refused to confess to witchcraft. The film sustains its tension for upwards of two hours, with top-notch acting by such heavy hitters as Daniel Day-Lewis, Joan Allen, and Paul Scofield. But it's Miller's dialogue, memorable for its lyrical precision, that perfectly distills the hopelessness of evading the accusations that spread through that small Massachusetts community. While the film surely condemns the alarmist reactions of the church and courts, it nonetheless outlines the systematic process that led the leaders to their conclusions. Alarmist they may have been, but believe it they did, and they acted on what they felt was the truth, after much internal debate. The film stirs up religious conundrums that are fascinating to contemplate, even for the spiritually disinclined. Scofield is powerful as the dispassionate magistrate whose word could send an accused witch to the gallows. Allen's crumbling stoicism in the role of Elizabeth Proctor earned her a well-deserved Oscar nomination, and Day-Lewis turns in his usual soulful performance, burning silently until a richly emotional denouement. Winona Ryder is a little too showy as the morally compromised Abigail Williams, but the rest of the supporting cast paints a true picture of a town torn asunder. The gorgeous cinematography supports the weighty issues at its core, making The Crucible a profound examination of one of the more disquieting and regrettable periods in American history.
by Derek Armstrong review