Steven Spielberg has been a bit absent as of late. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is the last feature he directed, and it came out in 2008. Now, he has a few films coming down the pike (The Adventures of Tintin coming this Christmas). I have seen all of his films, save for 1941, and until recently, Empire of the Sun.
The film is an intriguing look at life of British citizens living in Shanghai, China before and during WWII. Christian Bale is the star. Now, this is not the Christian Bale of Batman or The Fighter fame, but 11 or 12 year-old Christian Bale. He sings at the beginning and another key emotional scene, and I was suddenly reminded of his turn in Newsies. But this was his first major film role, and he carries the film on his back. Sure the supporting cast is great as well, which John Malkovich and Miranda Richardson rounding things out, but this is really Bale’s film.
Its easy to forget that Spielberg does in fact have a unique style all his own, when so many directors want to be him and thus copy him. He has an eye for beautiful shots that seer themselves into the memory. Think E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan. There a few images of each of those films that truly stand out. Empire of the Sun has a few of those iconic shots, mostly of Bale with airplanes, which his character is obsessed with.
The story is about a boy, separated from his parents after the Japanese invade China, trying to survive, at first in the city alone, and then in different interment camps. Its one of those films that I often found myself thinking, “I didn’t know that happened.” Educational and moving, as Spielberg tends to be. I found myself particularly moved in the end. Not spoiling anything, it really is magnificent the journey Spielberg and Bale take us on. The world changed so much in WWII and they do a great job of showing that change through the lost innocence of a little British boy.