On the Waterfront is one of the greatest films of all time and features what is arguably one of Marlon Brando's best film performances. It was directed by Elia Kazan, who had worked with Brando before in the film version of 'A Streetcar Named Desire' (1951). Like that film, this one excels, with Brando playing the hero instead of the villain.
The film takes place, as the title suggests, on the waterfront. The waterfront, as it turns out, is filled with corruption where union bosses extort money from companies with threats of strikes and other means. One man, Terry Malloy, is a former prize fighter that now runs errands for the boss, Johnny Friendly. His brother Charley is more deeply involved in the corrupt organization and has a leadership position.
One day, Terry is coaxed into talking to a man that might testify against the union boss. When what was supposed to be a gentle confrontation ends in murder, Terry begins to rethink his position in the corrupt organization. Although he is offered a cushy job to keep quiet and play along, Terry falls for a woman named Edie, who is the sister of the man killed. They fall in love and she helps him realize that his true mission is to fight the corruption.
The character of Terry Malloy is a complex one. At face value, you see a lazy man who is content to enjoy the fruits of a corrupt union. However, as the movie unfolds, you see a man that disagrees with what is going on, yet is unsure of what to do about it. Eventually, he reveals his pained regrets about his past, including his failure to continue his boxing career. Brando pulls off the role in a perfectly convincing manner, giving true depth to the character.
The chemistry between Brando and the other actors is also evident. One of the famous scenes where he interacts with Eva Marie Saint features him improvising after she accidentally drops her glove. Where other actors might have stopped in surprise, he flows with it, picking up the glove and brushing it off as though it was part of the script. In another famous scene, he confronts his brother Charley in the back of a cab, showing true emotion and disappointment when his brother pulls a gun on him. This film is definitely Brando at his best and shows why he was such a successful actor in his early career.
The film was made in black and white, which seems to add to the tension in the movie. The black and white coloring seems to mirror the battle between the dark and the light going on in the story. It also adds to the bleak atmosphere at the docks, where longshoremen are forced to work while the union boss hired to protect them profits off of their misery.
There is a lot of suspense in this film as we follow Terry's journey and wonder what he will do next. He is in a difficult and dangerous position and the film does a good job of making the user feel the fear and anxiety that his character doubtlessly feels. At the same time, the violence is done tastefully and with a purpose, instead of glorifying violence, the film makes it abhorrent.
Overall, this film is one of my favorites and represents the true potential of cinema. The classic battle of good against evil is demonstrated here, with fantastic acting. There is a reason that this movie cleaned up at the 1955 Academy Awards with 8 wins, go check it out now! 5 stars!