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The BFG is Steven Spielberg’s Best Movie in a Long Time

A callback to Spielberg’s classics.
The Bfg
Walt Disney Pictures
By  · Published on May 17th, 2016

Over the past few decades, the features associated with a Steven Spielberg film have largely changed. The director’s wild imagination remains constant, but the themes spanning his film evolve. As the 1990s approached, Spielberg moved away from his adventurous and endlessly fun films of the first part of his career, turning his focus towards increasingly mature subject matter. Following a trio of rather somber films – War Horse, Lincoln, and Bridge of Spies – Spielberg returns with The BFG, a film that greatly summons his twentieth-century classics.

Adapted from Roald Dahl’s novel of the same name, The BFG tells the magical tale of orphan Sophie (Ruby Barnhill in her film debut) and her relationship with the Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance). The young insomniac is roaming the orphanage one night when she spots the BFG, who then whisks her away to the Land of the Giants. It is there that she learns that this giant who initially terrified, is in fact tender and lonely, just like her. As their bond grows, the two cook up a plan to teach a group of human-hungry giants a lesson.

From its opening frames, The BFG feels like a classic Spielberg film. It is very much the sort of film fans of the director have been waiting for him to return to for quite some time. This is perhaps partially due to the screenplay, adapted by the late Melissa Matheson, who penned the 1983 Spielberg classic E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Certainly, in terms of character relationships, The BFG is actually quite similar to the 1983 film. The relationship and understanding between the BFG and Sophie very much parallel that of E.T. and Elliot. In both films we have characters that, while different in species, have an acute understanding of the other’s existence. It is Dahl’s wonderfully wacky source material that allows Spielberg and Matheson to experiment with this character dynamic in an exciting form.

Spielberg of course utilizes CGI to create the BFG. The giant bares an obscure version of Rylance’s likeness, one that is initially rather unsettling. Yet, the motion capture effects used allow Rylance’s expressions — both facial and physical – to show through on the towering figure. Rylance adds a sharp tenderness to the character, a tenderness that is certainly evident in his Academy Award-winning performance in Bridge of Spies. While Rylance is excellent of course, the most impressive performance in the film certainly comes from Barnhill. The eleven-year-old actress brings the precocious Sophie to life with the perfect balance of sweetness and sass.

The BFG may be a bit lengthy for a family film, but the introduction of new characters in the third act restores any luster the film may have lost along the way. It is when the BFG and Sophie take a journey to Buckingham Palace that the true magic of the film is on display. While The BFG may not be a true return to form for Spielberg, it is nonetheless a charming effort that is sure to stand the test of time.

This review is part of our coverage of Cannes 2016. For more, visit our Cannes 2016 archive.

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Toronto-based cinephile who especially enjoys French films.