Spielberg can be a far more lyrical director than he gets credit for, and the wordless passages of Empire of the Sun are among his best: a small boy, framed against a large, hostile world that Spielberg is smart enough to leave largely abstract (and beautifully textured). The feeling of helplessness can ache. Bale is phenomenal, and while the film is not as fully realized as it could have been, for that we have A.I.
While it's far from a bad film, "Empire of the Sun" is a story about the horrifying and dehumanizing effects of war that is all too often directed and scored like a rousing Indiana Jones adventure. Finding myself held at a distance from the movie as a result, I couldn't help but wonder how the Steven Spielberg of "Munich" and "War of the Worlds" would better serve this very same material.
I love Raiders, A.I., and Schindler's, but I have come to the realization that this might be Spielberg's finest. Just fantastic storytelling, with some wonderful set pieces - Jim's first up-close experience with a fighter jet, Jim's jubilation at the American's bombing the camp. And this remains, over 20 years later, the finest work of Christian Bale's entire career.
Certainly Spielberg's most nuanced take on lost innocence and childhood, and a better indication of the cynical side of his humanism than Schindler's List (which was more optimistic despite the subject matter). You can see a lot of A.I. in this film. If it weren't for John Williams' mostly tone-deaf orchestration and a few eye-rolling shots, this would be damn near perfect.
As far as Spielberg movies go, this was one of his more interesting, replete with a Tom Stoppard adaptation of J. G. Ballard's novel, and solid performances by John Malkovich and a young Christian Bale.
If my rating was based just on Bale's amazing performance I would have given the film a 5/5, however after the extremely impressive first hour and a half the film suffered some pacing issues. Some things dragged on a little to long while other scenes were passed over too quickly. However I definitely suggest this film based solely on the fact that you see the origins of one of the finest actors of his generation. 4/5