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Orphans is an ambitious and emotionally charged drama film that was released in 1987. Directed by the innovative Alan J. Pakula, who is known for helming many beloved classics, the film features top-tier performances from a trio of renowned actors: Albert Finney, Matthew Modine, and Kevin Anderson. This movie is a translation of the theater work by Lyle Kessler and retains much of its stage play feel, revolving around the intimate dynamics between its three key characters.

The film is set in the gritty, underbelly of North Philadelphia, where it unfolds within an aging and dilapidated townhouse. Modine and Anderson portray two orphaned brothers, who share the house, yet seem worlds apart in their manners and worldview. The elder brother, nicknamed Treat, is given life by Modine as a volatile, rudimentary hustler who takes on the role of sole provider for his less capable and simple-minded younger brother, Phillip, played with sublime sensitivity by Anderson.

Phillip leads a largely hermetical existence within the confines of their home, afraid to venture outside due to past traumas and the fear instilled in him by his protective older sibling. While largely brutish and curt, Treat's interactions with Phillip display a deep-seated love and concern, painting a vivid and touching portrait of their fraught bond.

The film takes an unexpected turn when Harold, an enigmatic and alcoholic businessman, stumbles into their lives. As enacted by Albert Finney, Harold is a character layered with charm, intelligence, and a nurturing nature that defies his initial introduction as a kidnap victim. His entrance into the brothers' homespun existence ushers in a tempest of shifting power dynamics, underlying tensions, and dramatic evolution that grabs the viewer's attention and holds it tight.

More than anything else, Orphans is driven by superb performances. Modine presents Treat as a hardened tough with his sensitivity bubbling just below the surface. Anderson, on the other hand, masterfully depicts the vulnerable and innocent Phillip's gradual awakening to his potential. But it's Finney as the paternalistic Harold who steals the show, painting a complex picture of a man who is so much more than he initially seems.

The screenplay, adapted by Kessler from his own play, is sharp, emotive, and filled with impactful dialogue. Pakula's direction elevates the material, capturing the small details within the subsurface of every interaction and imbuing them with meaningful potency. Similarly, the cinematography by the acclaimed Sven Nykvist lends the film a grimy, claustrophobic aesthetic that reflects the lives of its protagonists.

Yet despite the film's heavy themes and dense emotional atmosphere, it isn't without moments of humour and lightness. The interplay between the three leads often results in unexpected levity, and the screenplay is peppered with witty one-liners that balance the drama. Orphans doesn't shy away from the harsher aspects of the brothers' lives, but it also showcases their resilience and the beauty of their interpersonal relationships, resulting in a richly nuanced narrative.

Lending further depth to the film is the evocative score by renowned French composer Michel Legrand, whose music underscores the film's motifs of abandonment, kinship, and emotional growth, providing an aural testament to the characters' emotional landscapes.

Although not a blockbuster hit, Orphans is considered a notable entry in each of its lead actors' filmographies. The film manages to both maintain its emotional intensity and serve as a moving ode to the strength and complexity found in non-traditional familial bonds. It's a hard-hitting, bittersweet exploration of brotherhood, fatherhood, and the lengths humans will go to form connections and feel seen.

Orphans is not a typical Hollywood drama. It's a character study that delves deep into neglected territory with its examination of makeshift families and the powerful dynamics at play within. It is a thought-provoking masterpiece that showcases its talented acting trio at their finest and is sure to leave a lasting impression on any viewer willing to brave its emotional depths.

Orphans is a Drama, Crime movie released in 1988. It has a runtime of 115 min.. Critics and viewers have rated it moderate reviews, with an IMDb score of 6.5..

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Where can I stream Orphans movie online? Orphans is available to watch and stream, buy on demand, download at Apple TV, Amazon, Google Play, Vudu. Some platforms allow you to rent Orphans for a limited time or purchase the movie for downloading.

Alan J. Pakula
Albert Finney, Matthew Modine, Kevin Anderson
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