Starring: Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire, John Garfield
Director: Elia Kazan
Running Time: 118 mins
Gentleman’s Agreement is an American film about a reporter who, while investigating anti-Semitism in New York communities, pretends to be Jewish, and discovers the true depths of bigotry around him.
An engrossing and ever-timely look at systemic racism and prejudice in modern society, Gentleman’s Agreement strikes up challenging arguments and themes with passion, bolstered by an excellent lead turn from Gregory Peck. It doesn’t, however, quite get under your skin in the way it aims to. As a result, it’s never the infuriating, saddening indictment of modern society that it perhaps could have been.
But let’s start with the positives, the biggest of which comes in the form of Gregory Peck’s lead performance. Ever the charismatic gentleman, Peck is a delight to watch in any role, but this is something a little different to what he became best known for in his career.
On the one hand, he is just as composed and charismatic as you’d expect, but on the other, there’s a sense of almost ragged desperation in his performance, as he portrays a man devastated at the realities of prejudice by the people that surround him on a daily basis.
That’s the film’s most powerful suit, as he discovers the true face of people he knows well when he pretends to be Jewish. Seeing the reality of what people claim to be little more than playful remarks or not even that, Peck’s determined and simultaneously disheartened performance is the strongest message this film can give on anti-Semitism.
When it comes to deepening that message, however, Gentleman’s Agreement doesn’t quite hit the mark as powerfully. It’s certainly a frank, striking and challenging indictment of modern society, and the realities of covert racism that all of us are likely guilty of on a regular basis. However, it’s not a film that really got under my skin in its portrayal of injustice.
A big part of that has to do with the fact that, alongside Peck’s investigative story, he’s also involved in a romance that – for the most part – undoes a lot of the film’s more sobering drama. While the conflict between Peck and the people around him does eventually reach his own romantic relationship, the stability and blissfulness of that romance is often distracting throughout, and takes away from the harsh power of the film’s main story.
As a result, Gentleman’s Agreement really struggles to captivate when it comes to hammering home its main message. It’s a strikingly frank perspective on a social issue that remains to this day, but it’s not presented with quite enough fervour to prove genuinely infuriating. So, that’s why I’m giving the film a 7.2 overall.