A stone-black and eternally relevant horror film about human nature, The Crucible crunches togther eye-splitting drama, bone-chilling evil, and some of the best acting that's been performed in the 1990's. Winona Ryder here characterizes one of the most despicable film characters in the history - Arthur Miller said her actions are the result of sexual repression, but I don't know if that makes much, if any, of her actions forgiveable.
Based - although, not too clingingly - on the legendary play Arthur Miller wrote in the 1950's, The Crucible is directly a sharp, biting metaphor for the McCarthyist, anti-communist "Witch Hunt" that took place during that period, in the early years of the Cold War. Less directly, it can be a metaphor for any number of religious and political "witch hunts" that have taken place in the past or could take place in the future. It might be one of the most important plays ever written, and Hytner realizes it fully without restricting it to the ordinary boundaries assigned to films-based-on-plays.
The cinematography, which breathtakingly utilizes the space granted of a wide, crisp blue sky that slowly morphs into overcast, and the score, by George Fenton, are both absolutely top notch. The script, by Miller himself, is one of the better adapted screenplays of the decade. The performances are all fantastic - Day Lewis and Joan Allen are heartbreaking, and Ryder a sickly, demented force of nature. Not forgetting, of course, Paul Scofeld, bringing interesting shades to what at first appears to be a black-and-white character, Rob Campbell as a Reverend who redeems himself after a glimpse of the truth, and Peter Vaughn as a defiant victim of the hunt.
This is an absolutely fantastic film.