`Lawrence' is back, and it's better

BEST BETS

September 19, 2002|By Michael Sragow

Director David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia marks its 40th anniversary this fall, so a four-star rating doesn't seem enough of a salute - let's add a zero and give it 40. In the reconstructed and perfected version that first came out in 1989 and arrives at the Senator Theatre tomorrow with a new 70mm digital soundtrack, the movie's scope and brilliance awaken underutilized portions of viewers' senses and brains. It is the reigning masterpiece in a career bursting with them.

Screenwriter Robert Bolt's interpretation of T.E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom allowed Lean to suck the marrow of his favorite subjects - civilization, anarchy and the unknown; the call of the wild; the mystery of personality.

Peter O'Toole's Lawrence - sensitive, brooding, capricious and brutal - is one of the few convincing film portrayals of an eccentric genius, or any genius. Omar Sharif provides a charismatic counterpart as Sherif Ali, in turn Lawrence's antagonist, partner and existential touchstone.

Lean and his cinematographer, Freddie Young, make Lawrence's vision of a new Arab nation arising from the desert seductively concrete. They give us landscapes filled with harsh, perilous beauties and seductive portents. Every mirage, shadow or burst of sun registers as an omen or a puzzle in a movie that remains an infinite fascination.

The Senator Theatre is at 5904 York Road. Call for show times.

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