John Steinbeck's 1937 novel about a pair of migrant ranch workers - sharp little George and hulking retard Lennie - was a major stage hit in the late 30s, first being produced as a film in 1939, with a repeat performance in 1980 as a TV movie.
It's an enduringly indestructible classic: the two central characters are so strongly drawn that almost any physically apt performers can seem outstanding in the roles, and the plot - George and Lennie work on a run-down ranch and Lennie's mix of physical strength, childish panic and good nature gets him into trouble - is so well-structured that the jobs of adapter and director are mostly done for them.
What emerges from this incarnation is a film that is respectful of its origins, but inescapably reminiscent of television. John Malkovich's Lennie is perfect method acting, a marvellous assemblage of gentle giant mannerisms and pathetic childishness, but it remains obviously the work of a highly intelligent man simulating feeble-mindedness and, as such, is less than heart-breaking. Gary Sinise, playing George and doubling as director, establishes himself as both a strong, subtle screen actor and a tactful, competent helmsman.
The rest of the cast are limited by their roles, but Ray Walston is moving as the crippled old-timer who shares the hero's dreams of buying a small-holding and settling down, and John Terry (not that one) is fine as the ranch foreman trying to act nobly. Overall this is an effective reminder of a minor literary masterpiece, but most folk would be better off reading the novel or checking out the 1939 movie version.