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The Pawnbroker

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The Pawnbroker, directed by Sidney Lumet, is a gripping drama film from 1964 starring powerhouse actor Rod Steiger, alongside Geraldine Fitzgerald and Brock Peters. Famed for its bold storytelling, shifting timelines, and heavy themes, this classic movie was a trailblazer in many ways and laid the foundation for many future dramas.

The film is centered on Holocaust survivor Sol Nazerman, brilliantly portrayed by Rod Steiger. Once a university professor in Germany, Sol has since relocated to East Harlem, New York City, where he now runs a small pawnshop. The Nazerman character is shown as haunted by his horrifying past, with the traumatic memories of his experiences during the Holocaust constantly resurfacing. His unspeakable suffering is intruded with his everyday life, isolating him emotionally and creating a vast chasm between him and the surrounding world.

Ensnared in his own personal torment, Sol's personality grows increasingly bitter and detached. He is shown to carry on his pawnshop business without any sentimentality or compassion, hardened by his tragic past. He is disconnected from his past life and continues on his life devoid of any emotional commitment or contact, viewing himself only as an observer to the world around him.

In contrast to Sol's insensitivity stands the character of Ortiz, brilliantly played by Brock Peters. Ortiz, a warm, passionate Puerto Rican, works as Nazerman’s shop assistant. He serves as a stark contrast to the hardened pawnbroker, adding to the dramatic tension in the film. Ortiz bears the brunt of Sol's emotional alienation and detachment, but remains try to remain empathetic despite all the scorn.

Geraldine Fitzgerald portrays Marilyn Birchfield, a social worker who lives in Sol's neighborhood. Marilyn harbors a deep caring spirit, continually trying to reach out to Nazerman in her efforts to help the neighborhood's inhabitants. Yet despite all her efforts, she struggles to penetrate Sol’s self-imposed emotional barrier.

The film explores these relationships in depth, gradually unfolding the tale of a pain-stricken man who has lost faith in humanity. Sol’s interactions with the colorful and vibrant people of Harlem paints a stark picture of his inability to reconnect with the world. Meanwhile, his past is revealed to the viewers through the clever use of intermittent flashbacks throughout the movie. This technique creates a mesmerizing though haunting juxtaposition of past and present, evoking a sense of melancholy that permeates the movie.

The film is more than just a character study, though. Amidst the exploration of personal trauma, The Pawnbroker also sheds light on significant societal issues of the time. Poverty, racial discrimination, and crime were rampant in 1960s New York, something that the film paints all too accurately. The contrast between Sol's inner turmoil and the external chaos of the world around him makes for a riveting plotline that is both absorbing and thought-provoking.

Arguably the characters in the film are unique and intricately woven into New York's fabric. Director Sidney Lumet’s intimate portrayal of the city's life and times adds another layer to the film, making it not just a cinematic experience but a mirror to the society of that era.

Close attention must be given to Steiger's arresting portrayal of a man trapped in his tormenting past. His captivating performance has steeped the character of Sol with incredible mental complexity, creating an unforgettable impact. Complemented by the compelling performances of the supporting cast, The Pawnbroker truly delves deep into the emotional depths of its characters.

Director Lumet and cinematographer Boris Kaufman have managed to convey the protagonist's despair and detachment expertly through the use of high-contrast black-and-white film, adding to the solemn themes of the narrative. Quincy Jones provided music for the film, his jazz-infused score perfectly captures the zeitgeist of 1960s urban life and heightens the overall impact of the movie.

While the film's plot may sound oppressively bleak, its exploration of the human spirit's resilience in the face of adversity and its ability (or inability) to heal from trauma is deeply affecting and significant, making The Pawnbroker a beautiful yet haunting portrayal of a man's struggle to reclaim his humanity.

Though the film was released in the 1960s, it is relevant even today as it addresses universal themes such as grief, alienation, guilt, and hope. The Pawnbroker is a timeless masterpiece that endures as a classic piece of cinema. It is not just a film, but a cinematic experience that etches itself in the viewer's heart with its compelling narrative, poignant themes, and exceptional performances.

The Pawnbroker is a Drama movie released in 1964. It has a runtime of 116 minutes. Critics and viewers have rated it moderate reviews, with an IMDb score of 7.7. It also holds a MetaScore of 69.

How to Watch The Pawnbroker

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

Sidney Lumet
Rod Steiger, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Brock Peters, Jaime Snchez, Thelma Oliver
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