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Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Retro Review: Flesh + Blood (1985)

Flesh + Blood
1985
Cast: Rutger Hauer, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Burlinson, Jack Thompson, Nancy Cartwright, Bruno Kirby
Genre: Dramatic Adventure
U.S Box Office Gross: $100,000

Plot: In a chaotic, morally bankrupt Europe of 1510, a cold-hearted warrior, Martin leads his motley crew of mercenaries into battle to reclaim the castle of an ousted nobleman. But when the despot betrays them, Martin & his band of ruffians strike back by kidnapping the innocent young maiden betrothed to the nobleman's sona fearless renaissance man who must risk life & limb to rescue the woman he loves 









'So Hateful & Mean-Spirited With A Boring Story To Boot'

Paul Verhoeven's first Hollywood outing is in the form of a medieval epic that truly affirms the Dutch director's trademark style that is dark, hardcore and which doesn't hold back from his violent and extreme -yet unashamedly provocations, which he seeks to reinforce. 

To note, I watched the full uncut version with all the hardcore violence and sex intact.  

Set in the 16th Century middle ages in a part of Europe, a group of mercenaries end up being betrayed by a tyrant and their captain, and so they ambush another captain and kidnap the bride-to-be named Agnes. It is a tale told by the likes of Disney and many others before and after it, yet it is done in a way that is quite unlike any other. Much more so for people who aren't fans of Medieval and chivalry films, that they will find this to be as much of a chore, as it is not very entertaining.  

Like with all of Paul Verhoeven's other movies, the tonality of Flesh + Blood is crass and mean-spirited, which is untypical of a director of his reputation. This is hardly a feel-good movie of any kind and it basically takes all the main aspects of medieval films in general, adds in sex, nudity, including full frontal nudity, violence, cursing and some other unsavoury & repugnant scenes and thus, it becomes a different movie in itself. It was just so hateful that I couldn't bring myself to enjoy this one fully. The medieval setting enables Verhoeven to unleash his extremities in sex and violence that later on appeared in his American offerings. At most, the action here is adequate, & Verhoeven has delivered better in Robocop & Total Recall in that respect. The acting performances by the likes of Rutger Hauer, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Bruno Kirby aren't that memorable, nor very convincing that is one-note-ish and there are hardly any memorable scenes from the film to speak of. Because they are fighting with swords, there is always going to be massive bloodshed, and here, it looks way nastier. 

And as ever with most of Verhoeven's efforts, I didn't emphasize with or felt enough for the characters: they were all despicable, mean & shallow. Flesh + Blood is two hours worth of people cutting each other, slicing and dicing, people getting bludgeoned to death, together with a tepid and bleak story. This is amorality at its most extreme in the medieval context. Full of lust, some overacting and debauchery and the script is not very well-written, with little emphasis on character development, but rather characters acting and behaving awkwardly and crudely, with no intentions of changing for the better. There is a guy trying to tear the clothes off Agnes, with her bare breasts exposed whilst the young boy steals her necklace. In another scene, right after suffering a nasty head wound after it was sliced with a sword, we see a nun lying in bed, whilst she was in the nude. I can understand the first part, but when she was naked, I was like 'what?'. It wasn't just nudity- it was nudity without a point, and a needless one also. 

Flesh + Blood was a difficult watch with characters behaving in such deplorable ways and come to the 20th-minute mark onwards, it started to alienate me and the story became more cumbersome to endure. The cinematography by Verhoeven's patrons Basil Poledouris and Jan De Bont, who later went on to achieve even greater commercial success with Die Hard, Speed & Basic Instinct, was impressive, however.  

The main hero, Stephen is a bore and lacks personality, the dialogue is laughable at times one would assume Flesh + Blood was a dark parody of medieval movies. Ok, not quite, but this is hardly a love letter to them by Verhoeven. 

Flesh + Blood could have been an overly decent movie, had the tensions of the characters relationships been delved a little more and the so-called little moments such as Jennifer Jason Leigh's and Tom Burlinson's characters sharing a tender moment are shot down to pieces, as Verhoeven rams down the throat of the viewer plot twists and scenes that become more violent, but are also uncomfortable and verge on being vulgar. The rape scene involving Jennifer Jason Leigh and Rutger Hauer's characters where the mercenaries tear off her clothes and she gets raped, was unpleasant that I had to shut my eyes when he forced himself onto her. Thankfully, it was brief. 

But aside from the vulgarity, mean-spiritedness, not so likeable characters and action, there is very little else to enjoy from this film with the droning, downbeat and stale story that didn't set Flesh + Blood alight. It is so repetitive that it recycles the same beats of heavy violence and sex, whilst the rest of the movie continuously plods along.






Final Verdict:

With no genuine protagonist to root for, this is one medieval film that is as ugly as it is coarse and unabashed. It does have one or two watchable scenes that aren't filled with violence and sex, though aside from that, Flesh + Blood is in one way a realistically off-putting & depressing version of a medieval tale, minus the romanticism. That, & it has virtually nothing on Robocop and Total Recall

The story is overlong and boring and not engaging enough, along with characters one can barely root for.  

Flesh + Blood will interest cult movie fanatics, as well as those of Paul Verhoeven, but those of you who do not fall into either camp can skip this one. It's a film that, thanks to the medieval fantasy setting it is (so) easy to admire through its visual style, & yet it is also so spiteful and one that is equally difficult to muster up love for. 



Overall:


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