Ten-year-old Finnegan "Finn" Bell, an orphan being raised by his elder sister Maggie and her boyfriend Joe, is playing on a beach in the Gulf Coast when an escaped convict suddenly pops out of the water and overpowers him. He makes Finn promise to bring back food, medicine and bolt cutters to get the iron shackles off his leg. Finn complies, but the convict takes him as a hostage and tries to escape by boat to Mexico. The police seize the small boat heading out to sea. The convict hides on a buoy and the police tow Finn back to land. The next day, Finn sees on the news that the convict was a mobster named Arthur Lustig who had escaped from death row, but has now been recaptured.
Joe is called to do gardening work at "Paradiso Perduto", the mansion of the richest woman in Florida, Nora Dinsmoor. Ms. Dinsmoor has lived as a recluse since she was left at the altar by her fiancé many years before. Finn accompanies Joe and encounters Dinsmoor's young niece, the beautiful Estella. Dinsmoor invites Finn to come back and play with Estella. On Finn's first visit Estella behaves haughtily, but her aunt forces her into sitting for an impromptu portrait by Finn. While he draws, Mrs. Dinsmoor warns Finn that he will fall in love with Estella and have his heart broken.
Several years pass. Maggie runs away from home and Joe raises Finn alone. Finn goes to Paradiso Perduto every Saturday and develops into a talented painter. Although Estella is at times flirtatious, even attempting to seduce Finn at one point, she leaves without telling him to study abroad in Europe. Heartbroken, Finn gives up painting and his visits to Paradiso Perduto.
Seven years later, a lawyer comes to Finn and tells him that a gallery owner in New York City is interested in showing his work. Finn is perplexed but agrees to go. Once he arrives he encounters Estella in the park, whom Ms. Dinsmoor had mentioned was also in New York. Estella is in a relationship with a wealthy businessman, Walter. She resumes her flirtatious behavior towards Finn, posing nude in his apartment and arousing the jealousy of Walter.
Eventually Finn, frustrated by Estella's evasiveness, lures her away from Walter and the two make love. She tells him that she is going away briefly to visit her aunt, but she will be back to attend the opening of Finn's show. However, on the night of the opening Estella fails to materialize. Instead, Uncle Joe shows up, who inadvertently embarrasses Finn with his crudeness. Finn then goes to Estella's abode in New York, hoping to find her there, but instead he finds Ms. Dinsmoor, who reveals that she came to New York to attend Estella's wedding to Walter. When Finn becomes upset at the news, she tells him that Estella was using him all along to make Walter jealous and convince him to marry her. When she realizes how seriously she has upset him, she grows remorseful and apologizes for her manipulation, but it is too late.
Finn returns to his studio to find a strange bearded man wanting to see him: It is none other than Arthur Lustig. Finn is at first incredulous, but then he becomes uncomfortable with the old man's presence and implies that he should leave. As Lustig is walking out the door, his off-hand comments make Finn aware that he, and not the wealthy Ms. Dinsmoor, has in fact been Finn's benefactor during Finn's entire time in New York. Finn thus accompanies Lustig to the subway station.
While they are waiting for a train, Lustig sees two unsavory acquaintances on the opposite platform. Finn and Lustig outmaneuver them and get on a train. They think they are safe, but as the train is in motion one of the two men comes through the car and brutally stabs Lustig in the side. As Lustig bleeds to death in Finn's arms, he reveals that he has been Finn's benefactor in return for the kindness Finn showed him as a child.
Devastated, Finn detaches himself from everything and goes to Paris to study art. He becomes successful in his own right, and eventually returns to Florida to visit his Uncle Joe. Ms. Dinsmoor has since died, but he decides to visit her house anyway. As he is sitting in the garden, he thinks he sees the apparition of Estella as a child. He follows the little girl through to the back dock where he finds the child's mother, who turns out to be Estella, who has since divorced. She admits that she has often thought of him, and asks for his forgiveness for her past cruelty. Finn forgives her and they hold hands looking out over the sea.Ethan Hawke as Finnegan "Finn" Bell
Jeremy James Kissner as 10-year-old Finn
Gwyneth Paltrow as Estella
Raquel Beaudene as 10-year-old Estella
Chris Cooper as Joe Coleman
Hank Azaria as Walter Plane
Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Nora Dinsmoor
Robert De Niro as Arthur Lustig
Josh Mostel as Jerry Ragno
Kim Dickens as Maggie
Nell Campbell as Erica Thrall
Gabriel Mann as Owen
Stephen Spinella as Carter Macleish
Cà d'Zan, a historic residence in Sarasota, Florida, stood for the exterior of Paradiso Perduto. It was built in 1924 by Mable and John Ringling.
Bradenton, Florida - Cortez Road and Sarasota Bay - was used for the approach and gardens of Paradiso Perduto.
Hempstead House on Long Island, NY was used for the interior fountain court of Paradiso Perduto.
The Harry F. Sinclair House at East 79th St. and 5th Avenue in Manhattan acted as the exterior for Ms. Dinsmoor's New York mansion.
The voiceovers were not in the original screenplay. Once the film was edited together, producer Art Linson felt voiceover was needed to maintain connective tissue in the hyperstylized world Cuaron had created. Previously working with screenwriter David Mamet on The Edge (1997 film), Linson hired him to write the voiceovers. Mamet was not credited in the final film.
The name of Ethan Hawke's character was undecided for a while, with the original novel's Pip sounding unpalatable given this version's modern day setting. The production later settled on Finnegan, or Finn, the name of Hawke's dog.
The song "Siren" was written for this film by Tori Amos. The soundtrack also includes songs by popular artists such as Pulp, Scott Weiland, Iggy Pop, Chris Cornell and The Verve Pipe. Duncan Sheik's contribution, the song "Wishful Thinking", was released as a single from the soundtrack and Poe's "Today" was released as a promo. The film's score was written by Scottish composer Patrick Doyle, a veteran of many literary adaptations and frequent collaborator of Kenneth Branagh.
Several variations of the song Bésame Mucho are heard throughout the film. The primary recording however and the version released on the soundtrack in performed by Cesaria Evora.
The soundtrack also featured the breakthrough single "Life in Mono", which became a major hit, charting on the Billboard Hot 100.
The score track "Kissing in the Rain" was sampled in the song "RoboCop" on Kanye West's 2008 album, 808s & Heartbreak.
- Finn (Intro) - Instrumental Vocalization by Tori Amos
- Siren - Performed by Tori Amos
- Life in Mono - Performed by Mono
- Sunshower - Performed by Chris Cornell
- Resignation - Performed by Reef
- Like a Friend - Performed by Pulp
- Wishful Thinking - Performed by Duncan Sheik
- Today - Performed by Poe
- Lady, Your Roof Brings Me Down - Performed by Scott Weiland
- Her Ornament - Performed by the Verve Pipe
- Walk This Earth Alone - Performed by Lauren Christy
- Breakable - Performed by Fisher
- Success - Performed by Iggy Pop
- Slave - Performed by David Garza
- Uncle John's Band - Performed by the Grateful Dead
- Besame Mucho - Performed by Cesária Évora
The screenplay for this film was written by Mitch Glazer, loosely based on Charles Dickens' novel Great Expectations. The film itself was then novelized by Deborah Chiel, also under the title Great Expectations.
Great Expectations received mixed or average reviews. Based on 24 critic reviews from mainstream publication, Metacritic assigned the film a weighted average score of 55% based on reviews from 24 critics. Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 38% based on 34 reviews.
Film critic Roger Ebert, giving it three stars out of four, wrote: "Great Expectations begins as a great movie (I was spellbound by the first 30 minutes), but ends as only a good one, and I think that's because the screenplay, by Mitch Glazer, too closely follows the romantic line."
All of Finn's artwork and portraits of the main characters in the film were done by Francesco Clemente, an Italian painter. The actors sat for him in private. A gallery of some of the paintings is available for viewing at Fox's website devoted to the film.