Review: Age of Uprising: The Legend of Michael Kohlhaas
PLOT: A sixteenth-century horse dealer, Michael Kohlhaas is deceived by a nobleman. When he tries to have justice done, his wife is raped and murdered in retaliation. After getting his revenge, Kohlhaas becomes the unlikely leader of a peasant revolt, bent on overthrowing the corrupt feudal system.
REVIEW: Mads Mikkelsen is one of the more exciting actors to emerge from Europe in the last several years. Already a star in Denmark thanks to his knockout performances in Nicolas Winding Refn's PUSHER trilogy, and Susanne Bier's AFTER THE WEDDING, the one-time Bond villain has recently become very popular in North America thanks to the internally acclaimed THE HUNT and his on-going role on HANNIBAL. Thus, it should come as no surprise that a medieval drama with him as the headliner is getting a decent push.
That said, BRAVEHEART this is not – not that it's trying to be. AGE OF UPRISING is actually an incredibly somber, gritty, realistic depiction of life under the feudal system, where a peasant's life – even if they were wealthy like Kohlhaas here – was worth nothing to their lords, giving them little-to-no legal recourse. In some ways, this movie is almost like a Robert Bresson-movie, with very few concessions to the idea we might have of a medieval tale, meaning you should not go into this expecting anything especially rousing.
Rather, AGE OF UPRISING is capital-A arty, and often dull, with long, static scenes punctuated by grisly, matter-of-fact violence that tries to give you an idea of the brutality of warfare in the era without reveling in it. At times it's effective, such as a battle which is watched at a distance by Kohlhaas and his daughter, or in an early raid on the nobleman who stole Kohlhaas' horses. It's always interesting to look at, with lots of beautifully shot sequences that try to use natural lighting. As such, much of the film takes place during the day, which helps as even the indoor sequences are a bit difficult to decipher with this technique.
Given the seriousness of the film, there's relatively little musical score, with it only being used at certain key moments, and never aggressively. Rather, the film tries to stir our emotions through the performances, and as is to be expected Mikkelsen is superb as the compassionate and headstrong Kohlhaas, showing restraint right up until the final scenes, which plays out as one long take on his face, where he's able to convey a lot by doing very little. Mikkelsen gives the performance in French, which is not his first language, although to my ears his French sounds excellent. Ditto the Swiss Bruno Ganz as one of the few sympathetic nobleman, who admires Kohlhaas but nonetheless must do away with him.
Overall, AGE OF UPRISING is probably a little too action-y a title for the film we wind up getting, with the original French-title MICHAEL KOHLHAAS being more appropriate. This is far from rousing entertainment, and occasionally dull, although Mikkelsen's charisma and the visuals make it worth seeing, even if it's a bit of a bore.