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Blu-Ray Review - FLESH + BLOOD (1985)

FLESH + BLOOD (1985) review
In medieval Europe, a young noble girl is abducted by a band of mercenaries.







Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Paul Verhoeven

Starring: Rutger Hauer, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Burlinson, Jack Thompson, Brion James

FLESH + BLOOD (1985) eureka blu-ray


Throughout the 1970s and early '80s, Paul Verhoeven established himself as Holland's premium auteur. As with his later Hollywood work, Verhoeven's early films explored the director's two chief interests - sex and violence, often blurring the lines between the two. As Verhoeven's ambitions evolved, he outgrew the financial limitations of the Dutch film industry and made the move to Hollywood in the mid-80s, injecting his unique sensibility into erotic thrillers and big budget sci-fi actioners.

Along with his regular screenwriter Gerard Soeteman, Verhoeven had penned a script that explored the betrayal of a medieval mercenary by a comrade. Verhoeven claims the original script had a homoerotic subtext, but the Hollywood suits balked at such a notion, insisting that the filmmaker add a female lead and turn the story into an unambiguously heterosexual love triangle.

FLESH + BLOOD (1985) review

The result was Flesh + Blood, which despite Verhoeven's concessions to the mainstream, proved a box office catastrophe, taking a mere $100,000 against its reported $6.5 million budget.

To the film's credit, the money is up on the screen, with an opening battle scene featuring hundreds of extras bedecked in medieval splendour. It sets a false tone however, as the rest of the film is much more intimate, gradually morphing into a repugnant anti-romance between three unlikeable protagonists.

FLESH + BLOOD (1985) review

The core setup of Verhoeven's story bears a similarity to Clint Eastwood's The Outlaw Josey Wales, with Rutger Hauer's mercenary Martin and his band of thugs for hire betrayed by their employers after helping ransack a city. Martin's commander, Hawkwood (Jack Thompson), reluctantly agrees to lead the hunt for his former comrade.

Had Verhoeven been allowed keep his narrative to this simple dynamic, it likely would have resulted in a far more focussed and satisfying movie, but things are complicated, and made decidedly problematic, by the presence of Agnes (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a young noblewoman promised to Steven (Tom Burlinson), the son of the ruler who betrayed Martin's outlaws. As an act of revenge, Martin and his crew attack and rob Steven's group, with Agnes accidentally abducted. This leads to a controversial rape scene, in which Agnes pretends to enjoy Martin's aggressive violation in the hopes she might be spared similar treatment from the rest of his men.

FLESH + BLOOD (1985) review

Despite his being a rapist, Martin is viewed by the film as the closest thing it has to a hero, and we're asked to take his side over Steven's, yet we're never really given any good reason to do so. The film cheaply falls back on the idea that an audience will inevitably take the side of a character who lives in poverty over one who possesses wealth - sorry, but if the choice is between a pompous rich guy and a scruffy sex fiend, I know who I want my daughter marrying.

There are some interesting elements buried in Verhoeven's overlong and cluttered film. For all its failings, it's still one of the most grittily realistic portrayals of Medieval Europe ever put to screen, with Verhoeven doing for the historical epic what Sergio Leone did for the western, erasing the gloss from a previously polished Hollywood genre and exposing viewers to the grim realities of life in the period portrayed. Problem is, wipe away the film's grit and grime and we're left with nothing to cling to, making Flesh + Blood a highly unpleasant two hours.
Extras:

Feature commentary by Verhoeven; an interview with the director; a subtitled French documentary on Verhoeven's career; audio interview with Hauer; video interviews with screenwriter Soeteman and composer Basil Poledoris; original trailer; and a first pressing only collector's booklet.

A note on picture quality: I can't speak for previous releases of the film, but Eureka's disc suffers from noticeable colour desaturation issues which seem to occur in any scenes involving fire, including the film's many candle-lit interior scenes. All other scenes look fantastic.

Flesh + Blood is released on dual format blu-ray/DVD August 6th.


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