SWORD OF WAR
Reviewed by: Zombie Boy
F. Murray Abraham
What's it about
Historical drama about Frederick I, the 12-century emperor of Germany known as Barbarossa, who sought to rule all of Italy, and the Italians who had other plans.
Is it good movie?
Barbarossa, as played by Rutger Hauer, is not such a bad guy. Sure, he wants to crush all Italian rebellion and reunite the realm of Charlemagne with himself as ultimate despotic ruler, but really, he’s got a sense of fair play. He’d rather not go to war; he’d rather his dominance of the land be the people’s choice. And so what if he married a preteen who turned out to be a violent sociopath? Who among us hasn’t.
But then comes along Alberto da Giussano, and he’s all, “No, you will not destroy the Milanese people!” What a Debbie Downer. So, after Barbarossa and his army bring Milan to ruin and force the survivors to scatter with the wind and vows to eradicate Milan even from maps of the world, Alberto makes it is life’s work to band together an army and bring down the German king and restore his people to their home. Oh, and he’s also got this grungy, stringy-haired, lightning strike-surviving psychic girl he keeps trying to marry, who keeps spurning him because she loves him and is trying to protect him. Or something.
Sure, Sword of War is a sweeping epic. Clearly lots of time, energy, and money went into making such a violent period piece. From the sets, to the costumes, to the horses, to the huge battle scenes. But it doesn’t amount to piss in the wind if the script doesn’t back it up. This movie skips all over the place, time-wise, and can’t keep its motivations straight. At one moment, Barbarossa is kindly and wise, and at the next he’s committing genocide. Maybe that was the case historically, but Hauer, whom I normally love, was just phoning it in, here. He needed to be larger than life, and he wasn’t.
The post-production is a problem, too. The transfer looks weird, like I downloaded a corrupt copy, and the ADR is absolutely terrible. Everyone sounds like they were dubbed by someone else. The credits actually list voice actors, so I guess that may have been the case for some of the actors. Either way, between that, the ambiguous timeline, and performances that were either wooden or hammy, this movie was sort of a pain in the ass to watch.
Video / Audio
Video: Screener. The image here kind of bothered me: flat lighting and a high-contrast transfer.
Audio: Screener. A very bombastic soundtrack, both in terms of dramatic music and war sounds. Terrible ADR abounds.
Sword of War, or Barbarossa as it was originally titled, was based on a book about the German king and his weirdo bride, but gets confused as to whether it is about him or the Italians. Ultimately, that is a good word for the movie: confused. It suffers a weak script, uneven acting, and poor post-production. There are moments in it that are worthwhile, but not even F. Murray Abraham’s spirited performance can save it from mediocrity.