The movie industry is plagued with problems. Among the most common topics on internet movie forums is the issue of originality. Remakes, reboots, reimaginings, retellings and adaptations plague the industry, desperate to find something bankable that they can milk for all it's worth. Originality, though, is only half of the puzzle: even someone with the most inventive concept in the world won't get anywhere if they aren't a good storyteller. Sword of War is not an original story -- it's based at least partially on true events -- but, even with a decently invested cast and a solid amount of production value, co-writer/director Renzo Martinelli can't make any headway because his delivery is muddled, overlong, and boring.
There are several plot threads running through Sword of War. The film originally aired as a two-part, 200-minute miniseries called "Barbarossa" on foreign television, so some fault has to go to the editors of this American feature film version, but trying to sort the various events of the film out, even hours after watching it, is an experience that I honestly have to assume is akin to having Alzheimer's disease. At the forefront of the mess are Rutger Hauer as Barbarossa, Raz Degan as Alberto da Giussano, and F. Murray Abraham as Siniscalco Barozzi. The three become entwined in a war that erupts between Germany and Milan that culminates in the creation of The Company of Death, a 900-man army that stands up to Barbarossa and his tyrannical reign.
Er, well, sort of. Before the army can be assembled, we have to trudge through what seems like hours of backstory involving sisters (one of whom is a witch, who end up with Siniscalco and Alberto, respectively), a series of supposedly dramatic twists involving deaths of characters we barely know or care about, and lots and lots of yelling, thanks to Degan's degree from the "This! Is! Sparta!"/"I declare him an OOOOUTLAAWWW!" School of Dramatic Acting. Most of Alberto's plotline (which is completely and overwhelmingly uninteresting) is pitched somewhere between Lord of the Rings and Gladiator, and it fails miserably at coming close to either.
Adding insult to injury as the film trudges along for an endless 128 minutes is the fact that Martinelli is not an entirely incompetent director. The film contains quite a bit of production value for something shot on what was probably a limited budget, as well as several bloody battle scenes which are relatively exciting despite obvious CG enhancement, and he has both Hauer and Abraham in his stable, both of whom appear ready and willing to flex some actual acting muscles should Martinelli ever think to ask them to. Instead, Hauer loses steam over the course of the film and Abraham plays every scene as broadly as he wishes, which is often about as wide and deep as the Grand Canyon.
As Roger Ebert famously said, "it's not what a movie is about that is important, but how it is about it that matters." There is certainly a more engaging imaginary script for Sword of War, either in its original miniseries form or as a feature, that would make use of all the resources it has at hand. Instead, we get a tired film mired in cliche, rote dialogue and hammy acting that doesn't seem to realize it's flailing in the shadows of other, better movies, and anyone who thinks Hollywood telling the same stories over and over again is depressing would be wise to avoid a film that can't even connect the dots that are already on the page.
The DVD, Video, Audio and Extras
Lightning Media sent over a DVD-R screener of Sword of War, so I cannot review the content on the disc. However, fellow DVDTalker Nick Hartel got final copy; click here to hear what he thought.
Frequently well-made but ultimately interminable, Sword of War makes the razing of a city and an epic war seem incredibly, shockingly boring. Skip it.
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