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Awakenings ★★★½ 1990 (PG-13)

Marshall's first dramatic effort is based on the true story of Dr. Oliver Sacks, from his book of the same title. It details his experimentation with the drug L-dopa which inspired the “awakening” of a number of catatonic patients, some of whom had been “sleeping” for as long as 30 years. Occasionally over-sentimental, but still providing a poignant look at both the patients—who find themselves confronted with lost opportunities and faded youth—and at Sacks, who must watch their exquisite suffering as they slip away. De Niro's performance as the youngest of the group is heart-rending, while Williams offers a subdued, moving performance as the doctor. 120m/C VHS, DVD . Robin Williams, Robert De Niro, John Heard, Julie Kavner, Penelope Ann Miller, Max von Sydow, Anne Meara, Dexter Gordon, Alice Drummond, Richard Libertini, Judith Malina, Barton Heyman, Bradley Whitford, Peter Stormare, Laura Esterman, Vincent Pastore, Vin Diesel; D: Penny Marshall; W: Steven Zaillian; M: Randy Newman. Natl. Bd. of Review '90: Actor (De Niro), Actor (Williams); Natl. Soc. Film Critics '90: Actor (De Niro).