Ah, the splendid sight of a good movie after a string of bad ones. Understand me, I have seen about five bad movies in a row, and, when I watched Alive, I broke my streak. Perhaps then it is fitting that I should write my review of Alive last (the last of a marathon writing stretch of seven reviews), that is should be my final respite after such a long series of typing.
Alive is the true story of a plane crash that occurred in 1972 in the Andes. Come on, you know what I'm talking about, the one where the survivors had to resort to cannibalism? Yeah, I saw that episode of Seinfeld too. The movie has been parodied way too much for something of its caliber.
It starts out with a steely narration by John Malkovich, who tells of his finding God in the Andes, and then quickly goes into a terrific sequence involving the plane crash.
From there on in, most of the rest of the movie occurs at the front half of the plane, where 27 survivors begin their fight to live. A few people are completely broken by the experience and die. A few people do will go to any lengths to survive.
The particular lengths they will go to include cannibalism. They do not kill and eat, but instead eat the people who have already died. Nando (Ethan Hawke) and Antonio (Vincent Spano) have such strong survival instincts that they are willing to climb the Andes to save themselves and their friends.
Unfortunately, I saw Alive last, after all of the wave of survival films that it spawned. Because all of these were Alive rips, Alive now appears to be contrived and cliched. But it is not.
Alive is a movie able to touch your heart (and your stomach) as it grimly displays the miraculous true story of survival in the Andes. Using relative unknowns at the time, Alive was able to manipulate the audiences into believing that the circumstances were actually happening.
As normal, however, I have my complaints of Alive. For one, although the performances are great, the dialogue is incredibly bad. True story or no, I have trouble believing that anyone would say half the lines in this movie. Also, the movie tries to be funny. Although many people who go through trauma develop a dark sense of humor, it doesn't ever seem realistic... and seeming realistic is what dramas are about.
Ethan Hawke and Vincent Spano do their finest studio roles (Gattaca as an exception for Ethan Hawke) as they take on fairly simple characters and take them to new heights. Illeana Douglas manages to hold her own as practically the only female member of the cast, a woman desiring to go home to her family. Most impressive, however, is Vincent Spano, who plays Antonio Balbi.
Antonio is a control-freak who is forced, by the mountains, to realize that there are things that he cannot control. As the mountain gets harsher on them, and as hope dies, Antonio dies along with it. Nando and John Haymes Newton's "Tintin" Vizintin, however, will not allow their hope to die.
Alive is a good drama, uplifting, hopeful, and intelligent. It is not the greatest movie ever made, nor is it especially worth spending three bucks to rent. If it's on the television, however, go ahead.
Now, of course, it's on DVD, and the crisp video makes this story all the more compelling. Extras are weak -- a 40-second introduction from the director and a couple of retrospective documentaries (one is exhaustive and practically a recreation of the movie with the real stars). The movie ultimately speaks for itself.