The Legend Of 1900

As anyone who saw his widely adored, Oscar-winning Cinema Paradiso can attest, no one loves the movies quite as much as Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore. And no one, not even Spielberg at his worst, is capable of assaulting the audience with quite so many grandiose, tear-wringing sentimental clichés. "What's a momma?," asks a dew-eyed, precocious little boy of his adopted father in Tornatore's The Legend Of 1900, a telling early moment in a film that's not shy about steering a ship-full of immigrants past the Statue Of Liberty whenever the emotional pot needs stirring. Fortunately, the boy will grow into the wry, laconic Tim Roth, who cuts an agreeably enigmatic figure out of "Nineteen Hundred," a man who was born in the bowels of a luxury liner and has never set foot on dry land. In an awkward framing device, Pruitt Taylor Vince, a trumpeter from Roth's band, tells his friend's story in flashbacks that seem to exist only so Tornatore can remind the audience what an incredible yarn he's about to spin. Roth's main dilemma—will he ever leave the ship and join the "land people"?—wouldn't be such a bad expression of humanity's trepidation about stepping into a new industrial century if the director didn't present it so literally. But in the few moments when his formidable visual instincts take over, Tornatore's outsized sense of scale pays off in a handful of dazzling sequences, including a storm that Roth and Pruitt ride out on a sliding piano and a virtuoso "hot" jazz duel with Clarence Williams III. To his credit, there's very little cynicism behind The Legend Of 1900, and that makes its gross manipulation come off as sweetly naïve. But regrettably, the film invites plenty of it.

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