Great Santini [1979]

Robert Duvall gives one of his most memorable performances in the title role of this 1979 drama about a hardcore Marine lieutenant named Bull Meechum (Duvall), a fighter ace who calls himself "The Great Santini" and compensates for peacetime inactivity by waging war on his intimidated children. His wife (Blythe Danner) lovingly tolerates his behavior, but his 18-year-old son (Michael O'Keefe) is working up the courage to defy the domineering patriarch, whose need for competition borders on maniacal. When push comes to shove (and shove they certainly do), the son earns his father's begrudging respect, and as it turns out, just in time. Military brats may recognize their own experience in this comedic drama, but anyone can relate to the Meechum family's patriarchal dysfunction. Writer-director Lewis John Carlino (adapting the novel by Pat Conroy) does a fine job of balancing humor with the kind of stressful anxiety that can either strengthen a family or tear it apart. Both Duvall and O'Keefe were deservedly nominated for Academy Awards. --Jeff Shannon

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