1985, USA, 136 min.
This staple of high school English classes has remained relevant for decades, and with very good reason. The story is set squarely in the late 1940s/early 1950s, but the theme of regret and unfulfilled promise, and how they can fester and destroy everyone in their path, remains unchanged. Arthur Miller’s mesmerizing portrait of washed-up salesman Willy Loman’s denial-fueled breakdown—the job that’s defined his life for 63 years is over; his grown sons are confirmed losers; the present is so bleak he keeps retreating to the past—is really a battle to leave this world with a shred of impact and relevance. With Dustin Hoffman, however, the old play feels downright electric. His work as Loman is a journey through the emotional spectrum, a feat you behold in slack-jawed awe. The great actor is matched by Kate Reid as his all-knowing yet enabling wife. In early roles, John Malkovich and Stephen Lang are terrific as his wayward, hapless adult sons. There isn’t one wobbly aspect, one untrue moment, in this epic tale of small, defeated people feeling their way through their middle years.