Set against the dusty backdrop of Texas, Giant spans over 25 years and 200 minutes. It is an extravagant tale about identity, race, pride and the dawn of the age of oil. Giant follows stubborn and determined Texan rancher Bick Benedict as the industry he loves gradually deteriorates whilst oil drilling rises. After Bick marries the strong-willed, and equally stubborn, Leslie, the couple move to Texas and reside in the Benedict ranch. Leslie initially struggles to fit into her designated role as housewife and fails to be obedient when it comes to the treatment of the Mexican civilians who work for Bick. Meanwhile, one of Bick’s previous employees comes into money and begins to pose a threat to Bick. Jett Rink, hunts for oil around and in the middle of Bick’s land and remains a great annoyance to the Benedict’s throughout Giant. The film expands when the Benedict family grows. The second generation of Benedict’s occupy most of the film’s second half, with Jett, Bick and Leslie still sharing the screen from time to time. Amidst an array of characters, sub-plots and themes lies an in-depth discussion and portrayal of racial tensions during this point in America’s social history. It is the bold inclusion of such a controversial subject that makes Giant the triumph it is. It stands the test of time and remains an impressive and courageous piece of work almost 60 years on from its release. Giant successfully studies the changing attitudes and developments within racial prejudices during the early to mid-20th century. Simultaneously, it also flaunts some of American cinema’s most delightful talents of the time.
The last of James Dean’s three contributions to cinema, before his sudden death, Giant captures the real artistry of Dean. A man who took his craft seriously had finally broken free from the chains of his two previously troubled teen roles in East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause. Giant gives us a new Dean; a Dean with real fire in his belly and promise in his performance. Rock Hudson captures the nastiness and selfish nature of Bick whilst enabling us to still care for him. Elizabeth Taylor gives one of her greatest performances as Leslie who flutters back and forth between being a liberated, forward-thinking woman to a suppressed wife and victim of the times. She is as feisty as Dean on screen and her friendship that was forming with Hudson, at the time, comes across in their blatant chemistry. The film is at its most vibrant when Dean and Taylor interact, which isn’t that often but enough to wet our appetite. A young Dennis Hopper also brightens up the final half of Giant, whilst his character also brings the racial tensions to the forefront of the film’s main plot. At over 3 hours, Giant is a struggle at times but through perseverance comes great pleasure and, thankfully, an intermission. Giant might not be quite the masterpiece that it wants to be but it is certainly charming; reminiscent of a golden era of cinema whilst also showing signs of the exciting avenues film was yet to explore.
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