The Crucible (1996)

A telling of the Salem witch trials. Abigail Williams (Winona Ryder) attempts to frame her former lover John Proctor’s (Daniel Day-Lewis) wife Elizabeth (Joan Allen) on witchcraft.

Director: Nicholas Hytner

Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Winona Ryder, Joan Allen, Paul Scofield, Bruce Davison, Jefferey Jones

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense depiction of the Salem witch trials

Fun Fact: Daniel Day-Lewis did not shower or bathe from the time filming started to the time that it ended.

The Crucible was written in the 1950’s by the great playwright Arthur Miller. This was his response to the communist witch hunt that was led by Senator Joe McCarthy at the time. I’m always interested in period pieces like this. I read the play in high school for an American literature class and I enjoyed it. This is the only known film of the source material and the screenplay was written by Arthur Miller himself, in which he was nominated for an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay.

What we have here is an intense and suspenseful film. While watching this I kept thinking to myself that if it were made in the 70’s, Alfred Hitchcock would be directing and Peter Cushing would have a role in it. Even though that would’ve been great to see, what we got in 1996 was great. The first thing you will notice is the work that the set builders and costume designers put into it. Everyone put their research in and it shows with a well payed off result. The location that the film makers picked was a great choice as well. The town is built right next to the water and when it’s all pieced together it looks beautiful on screen.

With Miller’s script filled with tense moments, you get an amazing cast that gets the job done. When people talk about Daniel Day-Lewis, they never seem to talk about this film. I think this is one of his more underrated performances in his career. Like he does on his other films he stays in character to get the emotion that he needs for the performance. The man didn’t bathe for months, that’s how much that the role meant to him. Winona Ryder was the perfect choice for Abigail Williams. She was convincing when she was and wasn’t hysterical. She pulled off that Abigail was a victim and liar well. Paul Scofield was great as Judge Danforth as he was a firm and an aggressive detective like character. Joan Allen was nominated for best supporting actress at the Academy Awards and she deserved the nomination. She portrayed Elizabeth as a quiet, caring, and loyal mother and wife.

The best scenes are the court house scenes. It shows the hysteria that probably went on at that time. The extras that make the crowd do a great job at being vocal. When it shows the crowd, it isn’t goofy or over the top and you get the tone that you need for a hysterical crowd. When John Proctor and Abigail Williams are on trial, everything is calm without the crowd and that’s when the suspense kicks in. That scene in the film is shot and directed so well that you can feel the tension and a few times I felt white knuckled on what was going to happen next.

Overall, The Crucible is a film that really needs to be viewed. It has a fantastic script adapted by Arthur Miller, who wrote the original source material. The performances are top notch and I do believe that this is one of Daniel Day-Lewis’ underrated performances. You also get enjoyable performances from Winona Ryder, Paul Scofield, Joan Allen and others. The Crucible has the suspense that carries the film all the way through and you will enjoy every minute of it.

Verdict: Hit

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