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MOVIE REVIEW: Flesh and Blood

Flesh and Blood - Agnes and Martin

MOVIE REVIEW: Flesh and Blood

“Yes, you love me. Whenever it suits you” ~ Martin

It’s Saturday night. Broke? Looking for something to do on the cheap? Just don’t feel like hitting the bars and want a quiet night in? Well, here’s a medieval movie recommendation for you: Flesh & Blood.

It’s an odd movie made in the 80s featuring none other than last week’s Barbarossa hero, Rutger Hauer. It tells the story about a love triangle between a mercenary named Martin, played by Hauer (Blade Runner, Sin City) Lord Steven Arnolfini played by Tom Burlinson (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Hunchback of Notre Dame) and the virginal Princess Agnes played by Jennifer Jason Leigh (Last Exit to Brooklyn, Fast Times at Ridgemount High). 

It’s 1501, somewhere in Italy and Martin and his band of not-so-merry-men are mercenaries betrayed by an Italian lord named Arnolfini. Arnolfini has them booted out of his city by their former commander, Hawkwood, played by Australian veteran actor, Jack Thompson (Australia, The Great Gatsby). Meanwhile, Arnolfini’s intelligent, scholarly son, Steven, is betrothed to princess Agnes. They briefly meet and pledge their love for one another.

Flesh and Blood - St. Martin of Tours statue

After being betrayed, the crazy prostitute Celine, played by Susan Tyrell (Cry Baby, Buddy Boy) gives birth to Martin’s stillborn son. When Martin goes to bury the baby, he discovers a statue of St. Martin of Tours in the ground and takes it as a sign of his leadership because he was named after the saint and he also carries a sword. The band travel wherever the sword points believing it to be St. Martin’s will. En route, they capture Agnes and she ends up joining Martin’s motley crew of mercenaries, prostitutes and derelicts. Steven enlists Hawkwood’s help to retrieve Agnes by laying siege to a castle the mercenaries are holed up in where the former inhabitants have died of the Plague. That is the basic gist of the story without giving much more away.

As for the actors, Rutger does a great job as Martin. He does the role of the bad boy, leading man mercenary justice. Thompson as Hawkwood was forgettable. I think Verhoeven envisioned him with a larger presence but he was just left in the sideline due to the love triangle storyline the movie took. Leigh does an OK job as the annoying and indulgent Agnes. You never come to like her character, and while that’s not a must for any movie, I could never really get around to enjoying her on screen. Most villains you can come to appreciate or even admire; with Agnes, I wanted to throttle her at the end much like Martin. Tyrell’s character Celine offered most of the comic relief in this film but a lot of it was laboured. It felt like she was trying too hard to be vulgar and funny and put together, it came off as wooden; a total unfunny caricature of a prostitute. Burlinson’s snotty Steven Arnolfini was actually enjoyable. He played the part of the the intelligent, insufferable and pretentious scholar very well. The effects? Well, its the 80s, what more is there to say? This wasn’t a big budget Hollywood film so don’t expect much in terms of special effects or spectacular scenes.

Martin and his mercenaries - Flesh and Blood

For it’s time, it’s a long movie, coming in at just over two hours. It didn’t fare well when it was released to American audiences back in 1985 and I can see why. It’s campy, and tries to be funny but fails miserably. There are a few chuckles here and there but I didn’t find the movie terribly humorous. I felt it wanted me to think it was a comedy and initially, starts off in that vein. I wanted it to be funny, and it came close a few times but ultimately failed in that department. There are a few scenes in it that are rather disturbing, and completely clash with the forced levity the film tries to inject to make these scenes less problematic. The movie shows the misery of the Middle Ages rather well but it can’t quite decide whether it wants to remain a depressing film or be The Princess Bride. Sitting in this weird no-man’s land without being able to go over the funny cliff, or without being firmly entrenched in the drama/adventure camp made it messy and unpleasant to watch.  I think this is a love it or hate it movie, unfortunately, I fall into the latter camp. Actually, I can’t say I hate it, it has some good scenes, and decent acting, thanks to Mr. Hauer, but it just never took off in either direction. It couldn’t make up its mind leaving me unable to make up mine so it just fell in the “OK” range for me. I didn’t care for the movie, but it is a cult classic, so I felt the need to see why. Join me next week for another medieval movie review!

~Sandra Alvarez

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