Written and directed by James Cameron, Titanic is one of the biggest box-office hits of all time to this day, earning well over 2 billion dollars. The megahit, which was released back in 1997, was also critically acclaimed winning 11 Academy Awards with 14 nominations.
The framing of the film sees Bill Paxton's researcher, in present day, exploring the wreckage of the iconic ship. He discovers not the lost jewels he was hoping to find but, instead, a drawing of a young lady posing in the nude. Soon enough, he receives a phone call from an old woman claiming to be a survivor of the Titanic, and the lady in the drawing. She proceeds to recount the events of that fateful journey to the research crew.
Kate Winslet stars as Rose, who is engaged to be married to a wealthy man as a way of saving her family from financial collapse. On the Titanic, she meets Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio), a poor young artist who got onto the ship at the last minute after winning a game of Poker. A romance sparks between Rose and Jack but the different worlds they live in stand in their way, not to mention a small matter of the entire ship finding itself about to sink into the icy cold seas in the middle of the night, with no hope of everyone making it out alive.
After the likes of The Terminator and Aliens, Titanic seemed like an odd choice for James Cameron to tackle but, in retrospect, one couldn't have chosen a better director to make this film. His technical ambition, his love of underwater exploration, his obsession with machines and his firm grasp of drama and suspense - it all makes perfect sense. And Cameron didn't disappoint providing a genuinely human, heartbreaking romance alongside a ridiculously intense disaster that takes place in the second half of the film and is not only perfectly, classily foreshadowed but every bit as violent and devastating as you'd expect the sinking of the Titanic to be.
With this film, Cameron aims to really show you the power of movies: how being told a story and picturing it visually is one thing but recreating it as well as possible for the cinema can have a huge impact akin to an actual memory and thus create real emotion. It's no secret that Titanic is a tearjerker but it's also a terrific film in its own right. As Rose and Jack, Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio have never been more convincing and the characters match really well. The actors' natural performances really selling both the love, the connection between these two and the tragic denouement.
The supporting cast also does great work, even if those characters are often archetypes compared to the two leads, which is obviously by design. Billy Zane's Caledon could've been played as a fool or a straight-up villain, and there are elements of that, but he is refreshingly fleshed-out as a character and comes off as more of an antihero by the end, even if he is still a jerk who doesn't deserve the girl.
The effects in the film are impressive and still pack a punch, even if one or two here and there haven't aged that well. The slow (then quick) utter destruction of the ship, its initial majesty, with all the flooded sets and mess of death all around is appropriately chaotic and shocking. And the irony of a massive technical achievement in film depicting a massive technical achievement by humanity being one that completely fell apart is bold and really interesting to think about. As are the many themes touched upon in this film like life and death, love and heartbreak, class, gender divides etc.
Overall, I think it's fair to say that Titanic deserves the praise it has received over the years and it holds up as one of the best melodramas, and action films, of all time. James Cameron's masterpiece does not hold back and is far more clever than you remember, naughtier too.