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99 of 103 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Foster's most challenging and impressive performance
While Hollywood is filled with movie stars, it can boast of only a scant few bona fide actresses. Jodie Foster, the consummate professional, is the cream of that small crop, and I respect no other actor or actress on earth as much as I respect her. Nell is a testament to her unlimited talent as well as her unmatched commitment to what she does. The character of Nell is...
Published on June 14, 2003 by Daniel Jolley

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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Nice performce from Foster in dull movie
An impressive performance by Jodie Foster can't turn a dull script into a decent movie. The other characters are cardboard, containing no ambiguity, with each being villains out to destroy Nell or heroes out to save her. A weak, flowery too pat ending just makes things all the worse.
Published on June 6, 1999


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99 of 103 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Foster's most challenging and impressive performance, June 14, 2003
This review is from: Nell [VHS] (VHS Tape)
While Hollywood is filled with movie stars, it can boast of only a scant few bona fide actresses. Jodie Foster, the consummate professional, is the cream of that small crop, and I respect no other actor or actress on earth as much as I respect her. Nell is a testament to her unlimited talent as well as her unmatched commitment to what she does. The character of Nell is a role most actresses would never consider taking; it's a far too difficult challenge to meet for a film that holds little promise to bring in money hand over fist. For Jodie Foster, though, what matters is the story to be told, not the glamour or the projected box office receipts. She gives an absolutely amazing performance in this film, one that has deserved far more attention than it has received; as I write this, there is not even a DVD version of the film available. If Nell is mentioned at all, it is almost always in reference to Jodie's Foster nudity in the film, and I would like to say straight out that her nudity is very tastefully done, important if not absolutely necessary for the story, and in no way provocative.
Nell is a poignant, emotional drama that saddens as well as inspires you; it is the kind of tearjerker in which your tears of empathy and concern are accented by a smile and sense of heartwarming joy. The story is set deep in the wilderness of western North Carolina, where an old woman has lived for years all by herself. People always thought she lived alone, at least, until she died and the local doctor discovered a pitiful woman-child hiding inside the shack, the only home she had ever known. Nell's mother had suffered a stroke many years earlier and spoke with a pronounced speech impediment; as a result, Nell speaks a tongue that is almost completely foreign to both the local doctor and the psychiatric professional he calls in from Charlotte. Dr. Lovell (Liam Neeson) becomes a guardian angel of sorts to Nell, fighting the courts and the mental health professionals to keep Nell in her native environment as opposed to being stuck in some institution where she will be treated as a lab subject. He gets three months to work with Nell himself, and his potential foe in the form of psychologist Paula Olsen (Natasha Richardson) becomes his ally in time, as they both work with Nell to learn her unique language and prepare her for a life completely unlike that which she has always known. In her own special way, Nell helps the two doctors as much as they help her, yet their ability to protect her from a dire future of lonely clinical existence remains in doubt up until the very end.
Neeson and Richardson are wonderful in their roles, but Jodie Foster is simply amazing. She had to learn a completely new, invented language as well as adopt a wide range of meaningful facial and body expressions and unique mannerisms in order to portray this "wild child" as a very real, very human individual. Nell is easily one of Foster's most impressive performances, and how she did not win an Oscar for this role is beyond me. It should also be noted that Foster produced as well as starred in this unforgettable film. The scenery, I might add in closing, is also spectacular. Filmed largely in the Nantahala National Forest in Graham County, North Carolina, a location just west of my own home, Nell is a beautiful sight to behold in more ways than one. Hollywood needs more powerful, moving films such as this.
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37 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Warm and magical, May 12, 2001
This review is from: Nell [VHS] (VHS Tape)
In "Nell," Jodie Foster wows us, as usual, with a deeply felt, passionate performance. She is Nell, the "wild child" daughter of a backwoods aphasic hermit woman, who raised her all alone with no human contact. Nell's speech is all her own -- it is a striking combination of a private language she had once shared with her deceased identical twin sister, and an imitation of her mother's speech. Her mother, as I mentioned earlier, had aphasia, which includes major speech processing problems. Nell's speech was the basis for the title of the play upon which this film was based -- "Idioglossia." (I believe, for anyone out there who's into things like this, that the correct term would have been "idiolect," as the term for a language spoken by only one person.) Natasha Richardson and Liam Neeson bring constant love and warmth to Nell, and to the film, as medical/social-work professionals who attempt to break through to Nell by trying to learn her language. In the background lurk The Media, and The Scientific Establishment, both of which threaten at any moment to swoop in and make Nell's life miserable. The film builds to a heartrending and passionate, albeit rather unrealistic, courtroom self-defence speech by Nell, in which she calls the precepts of modern civilization itself into question.
Liam Neeson's performance is described by one of the editorial reviewers on this page as being "at his teddy bear best." I think that sounds slightly emasculating -- he put more positive, warm energy into this film than many actors project in their entire careers. Show some appreciation! Come on!
Anyone who enjoys this film should also be told about "Wild Child," a Francois Truffaut film that deals, through decidedly less rose-colored glasses, with a true story that was very similar to this one. Another film that has certain parallel resonances, in the sense of a "freakish" individual seeking a chance to be themself in the face of major obstacles coming from the scientific establishment, is "Charlie," starring Cliff Robertson and Claire Bloom.
I thought about giving this movie four stars, only because it puts Nell in the rather unrealistic position of delivering a profound courtroom speech. I decided to go with five, however, because the basic energy of the movie is so terrific. Absolutely worth checking out.
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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deeply moving ..., August 4, 2004
This review is from: Nell (DVD)
This is the story of Nell, a child of rape, raised out in the wilderness by her mother. Hidden away from the world, she is raised by a mother who has had several strokes and is aphasic (can't speak well). As a result of her isolation, she learns a form of English that sounds like gibberish.

When the elderly woman dies, Nell is left alone in the wilderness. She is terrified when people come to the house and she is found. She is deemed a "Wild Child". Enter Liam Neeson as the local visiting doctor and Natasha Richardson as a research psychologist that the doctor contacts. They study Nell closely and they both have different goals for her as the story unfolds.

To say much more would most certainly ruin the movie ...

This movie was compelling, deeply moving, and finally deeply satisfying. It will linger in your mind for days and days after viewing it. This movie is a keeper and may become a classic in the years to come. EXCELLENT.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing story with a truly great performance (Foster), December 28, 1998
By A Customer
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This review is from: Nell [VHS] (VHS Tape)
The main thing I want to say is that this film contains one of the greatest, most haunting and truly memorable acting performances I have seen on film, and anyone interested in great acting should see it just for that reason.
The story is also a lot more sophisticated than most. It is based on a play or story by the same person who wrote the screenplay for Shadowlands (which was also a beautiful and haunting movie, although very different from this). I believe the title of the original story was "Idioglossia," which conveys something of the fundamental idea. Idioglossia refers to the condition of speaking a "private language." Philosophers such as Wittgenstein have debated whether it is even possible to have a completely private language, since a language is designed to communicate, i.e. to share meaning with others, while a private language would defeat that intention. However, it is known that identical twins do sometimes create semi-private languages which allow them to communicate with each other, to the exclusion of all other human beings. In addition, when people grow up in very unusual circumstances, this may affect their speaking in ways that cause them to be unintelligible to others and even to be perceived as crazy and incompetent.
NELL deals with these issues in a context that calls into question some of the premises of law, "mental health" and modern psychological research. The plot is contrived and simplistic in some ways. The penultimate scene in the courtroom requires some suspension of disbelief, although I found that it was both powerfully acted and beautifully written -- if one was willing to take it on its own terms.
The very last scene, five years after the main action of the story, has a line that profoundly ties everything together. Observing Nell evidently thriving in her own way (and the very last line indicates subtly that Nell now can speak normal English), Paula remarks, "To think that I was going to change her!" and the Sheriff's wife -- who seems to have been cured of her chronic depression as a result of interacting with Nell -- replies, "But you did! Didn't you know?...You were the first -- the first one who needed her!" This notion that personal transformation occurs out of the opportunity to contribute is something that goes way beyond the other more intellectual issues in the film.
I should also mention that the scenery in the film -- the mountains of western North Carolina -- is stunningly beautiful, and the performances by Liam Neeson and Natasha Richardson are very pleasant, even though they are completely overshadowed by the brilliance of Jodie Foster.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very moving; watched 3x straight; great script & acting., July 31, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Nell [VHS] (VHS Tape)
I just finished watching this film for the third time straight, having started at midnight, and kept on past dawn, rewinding various scenes to watch several additional times. The acting from Foster, Neesen and Richardson is excellent throughout, and the script is wonderfully structured, with hard-hitting (and NOT needlessly explained) supporting characters throughout. Shockingly, with my first investigation on the internet (just 5 minutes ago), I found a prominently-placed 1995 review by "Zachary Woodruff" of the Tucson Quarterly, or some such, who reveals his total ignorance of all things cinematagraphically worthwhile by panning the film, having enough lack of taste to pidgeonhole it as simply one of Jodie Foster's excentric roles. The review is so singularly shameful that I must quote it in full: "REVIEWED: 01-12-95: Jodie Foster transforms into Foster Gump for this ridiculous tale of a backwoods 'wild child' who must face the inevitability of dealing with civilization. The movie is a showcase of Everything You Ever Wanted to See Foster Do But Couldn't Imagine She'd Ever Lower Herself To Do: run giggling through the forest, screech in spasmodic fear, cuddle up and coo next to Liam Neeson, dance jubilantly in circles with her shirt pulled up, and look in the mirror while voguing and talking like E.T. Luckily, when Foster isn't stretching credulity, she and costar Neeson actually manage to draw a few moving moments out of the self-important script." The person or insect who wrote this simply has no soul, and wouldn't know top-notch acting, a daring script, enchanting cinematography, and subtle editing if it came up and clothed and bathed him. The comparison to Gump is so facile, and the lack of regard for the truly admirable acting of Richardson (as well as of the actor who plays the grocery-deliverer), is so glaring as to make this pinhead's begrudged concession (that Foster/Neesen "manage to" eek out several moving moments) grossly offensive. This is a fine work of art, and talk-show fans and other Jodie Foster fetishizers ought to have the sense to shut up when they're confronted with a film that clearly transcends any such angle on reviewing it; Foster succeeds in an extremely difficult role, and the beautifully-crafted script makes for a film in which all actors have the chance to be worthy of the highest compliment -- i.e., that they do exactly what is called for to create the tension to be found already in the script, and no more. And they do just this. This is probably the same as saying that the film was masterfully directed. The various difficulties in understanding Nell's language only serve to bring the viewer deeper and deeper into the world the film creates -- provided, that is, that the viewer actually cares to appreciate a good film by, for example, paying attention to it.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful movie, April 20, 2003
By 
"liltrubblemaker" (The beautiful south, USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Nell [VHS] (VHS Tape)
This movie was beautiful to me because it brings messages that speak to a certain group of people. Individuals that look for something "funny" in those that are different ("funny" as in to make fun of rather than laughing because something is humorous) won't get the message. If you sometimes wonder if this life is all there is, Nell might have a lot of inspiring notions for you.
No, it's not an entirely perfect movie. I would have liked having some more details regarding May, and perhaps a little more background on the mother. However, if you think it was a flop then I'd like to see you take this subject matter and improve on it. The language in itself was pulled off beyond belief. I thought it was dramatically brilliant. Jodie Foster is amazing and exceptionally believable.
I disagree with some comments I see here regarding the final speech. I think that her more "educated" sounding phrasing in the courtroom show that Nell is learning from what's going on around her, and that's entirely believable. Just because she was in a trancelike state doesn't mean she wasn't taking things in prior to the court session. She's not a dumb girl at all, and I thought her deep hearted message proved that she is not autistic or retarded. Think about it. She's like a blank canvas. If you can't believe that something like that can happen, then I haven't any way to convince you. I believe it can.
Beautifully done. She should have won that academy award.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Nice performce from Foster in dull movie, June 6, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Nell [VHS] (VHS Tape)
An impressive performance by Jodie Foster can't turn a dull script into a decent movie. The other characters are cardboard, containing no ambiguity, with each being villains out to destroy Nell or heroes out to save her. A weak, flowery too pat ending just makes things all the worse.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Moving acting far makes up for improbable tale, June 30, 2000
This review is from: Nell [VHS] (VHS Tape)
Jody Foster couldn't act poorly if she was forced to at gun point... her role as a troubled girl living by herself in the woods is stellar. In spite of the isolation this girl grew up in and her messed up language due having her mother (a stroke victim) as her only companion growing up, the character of Nell is almost a bit too normal. It's a proven fact that people kept in isolation suffer mental breakdowns, become depressed and sometimes violent... that is why "solitary confinement" is such a harsh punishment in jail.
The antagonists, Redneck hillbillies and narrow-minded "know-it-all" psychiatrists, are a bit too stereotypical and expected.
Every once in a while you hear f a "jungle boy" or other isolated child or young adult found in the woods somewhere that has survived beyond all odds, foraging for food, tending their own wounds and living w/o interaction w/other people... but never do these people survive in mainstream culture in just a couple of years of being in an institution.
Nonetheless, I found this film very entertaining and very moving due to the flawless acting by Neeson and Foster. Unless you're more cynical than I am, it's hard not to enjoy this film and just dismiss the obvious improbabiliites in this film. Definitely worth seeing for the moving acting by Foster.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Maybe the movie was about us, July 25, 2000
By 
Gordon Kearns (St. Louis,, MO USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Nell [VHS] (VHS Tape)
Oh, so many Nell's there are in this world, living their various aspects of childhood; and oh, how desperately we want to change them - for their own good, of course. Even those who actually are living in the years we label as childhood suffer from our drive to get them out of it. The eleven year-old who would play with dolls, or would rather paint than study math, or would do a Nell's dance at a family get-together - all feel our need to make them grow up, to be interested in important endeavors like, maybe, school achievement, team sports, life goals, and, naturally, repressing impulsive behaviors (you might check out the character of twelve year-old Elsie in "Fairy Tale: A True Story". Now, as then, she would be expected to put away childish things).
As to the movie, I don't think it's a spoiler to say I think the high point of the movie wasn't the courtroom scene. I think the story turned on the moment Paula (Natasha Richardson) found solace in Nell's hands, when Nell was no longer a subject, but a needed co-human.
I thought "Nell" was a well produced, directed, and acted movie. Jodie Foster, Liam Neeson, Natasha Richardson and the rest of the cast were outstanding. Of special note, I think Nick Searce, as the sheriff, gave his character real depth in a beautifully nuanced and layered performance.
See this movie. The child hiding inside you will love it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tour de force of sensitive acting skill and direction, November 26, 2009
By 
Roger Boon (Llandudno,Wales,UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Nell (DVD)
I bought the DVD of this film, which I was completely unaware of, because of the previous excellent review.Jodie Foster's performance as Nell made an almost incredible character totally believable. How she didn't get an oscar for her performance says more about the oscars than about the enormous range and empathy of this superb actress.She was assisted by a wonderful complementary and vulnerable performance from Liam Neesom and the sensitive exploration of a very difficult subject by Michael Apted. I found myself crying without immediately understanding why. I then realised that the film had plumbed the depths of my humanity to levels I did not realise existed. It confronted the question of what it is to be a fully individual human being going beyond our place in a so called civilised society to our almost instinctive spiritual responses to the natural world and to relationship. This is a truly deep and rewarding film which deserves a wide audience. My only criticism is that the transition to Nell's independence was hurried towards the end in the interests of dramatic denouement.
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Nell
Nell by Michael Apted (DVD - 2004)
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