Let me be perfectly honest, I have very little to say of "The Hessen Affair," largely because "The Hessen Affair" has very little to say to its audience of value. The freshman effort from Paul Breuls, doesn't fizzle out at the end like so many films have a tendency to do, instead it leisurely walks from start to finish, stretched out by a 45-minute idea from Nicholas Meyer into a 113-minute, consistently mediocre bore. If there is one finger to be pointed for the film's failure it's at Meyer, who has no business being involved with such an amateur hour production. For those unfamiliar with Meyer's work (to be fair, he's co-credited with Ronald Roose), he's the mind behind the pages of "Star Trek II," "Star Trek IV," "Star Trek VI," and "Elegy" to name a few as well as helming the ships on Trek's II and VI.
All the sharp characterization and well-paced story progression for Meyer's hall-of-fame are nowhere to be found and further baffling is the story is advertised as being true. A noir at heart, "The Hessen Conspiracy" puts Billy Zane with a rather convincing hairpiece, in the role of Col. Jack Durant, a cool Army officer in charge of captured German castle. With the war just ending, Durant, fellow officer Lt. Kathleen Nash (Lyne Renée) and a handful of fellow soldiers decide to get rich by looting the hidden treasures stored inside the walls they're assigned to protect. A series of increasingly contrived events slowly drag our characters to a predictable conclusion, due in no short part to Meyer's use of the tired flashback method of storytelling. The nicest thing I can say is that it's serviceable to a fault, but the snails pace at which it unfolds makes it come off worse than it actually is.
Not assisting matters is the poor chemistry between leads Zane and Renée, which coupled with Breuls' stiff direction, may have you skipping ahead through the sleep-inducing scenes of romance. I've long been a fan of Billy Zane and while I won't defend his proclivity to find himself in roles where nuance is not a requirement, "The Hessen Conspiracy" does find him using his powerful voice and natural screen presence to good effect, for at least a third to half the film. Renée on the other hand is dull from start to finish, delivering Meyer's dialogue with little to no inflection, helping add the word "contrived" to the list of adjectives to describe the script. Michael Bowen shows up late in the film, terribly miscast as a crime boss and the rest of the supporting cast could use lessons on genre acting, because the radio play approach to delivery doesn't cut it.
The real take home message from "The Hessen Conspiracy" is that even in an the most uninspired film, Billy Zane is still a decent actor. I don't know what's happened behind closed doors in Hollywood, but Zane deserves a lot higher profile roles than straight-to-DVD stuff like this. When the man can show up in an Uwe Boll film and actually standout as a natural talent, you know he's something special. Yes he can be hammy and he teases such camp a few times in this film, but I shouldn't be sitting here writing these words. Unfortunately, there's not enough of Zane in this film to elevate it to a cheap rental. In fact, rather than rent this, go rent "The Phantom," an underrated, campy, period superhero adventure that is definitive evidence that Billy Zane didn't get a fair break.
To Breuls' credit, "The Hessen Conspiracy" may be filmed flatly and without emotion, but the production design is striking, capturing the period look in both sets and costuming, making the fumbling execution at a noir tale all the more infuriating. Nothing kills the spirit more to have a dimly lit shot of a street with the hard boiled narration of Billy Zane leading you into a scene populated by bit players looking like a bunch of deer in the headlights, suggesting sitcom level solutions to gritty problems. The more I think about it, the more I despise the script and the audacity to try and pad things out for nearly two hours. "The Hessen Conspiracy" is one of the few times where phoning it in feels like a bigger failure than shooting for the stars and falling on your face.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is very soft looking, marred by occasional digital noise and lower than desired contrast levels. Colors are the only highpoint, highlighting the pleasing production design, however detail falls victim to the soft focus and minor digital noise reduction.
The Dolby Digital English 5.1 audio track is passable, with dialogue distortion free, but mixing levels running into the occasional hiccup. There were a few instance of muddled dialogue and the surrounds don't quite get the desired workout. English subtitles for the hearing impaired are included.
Decidedly average and excessively dull "The Hessen Conspiracy" is far from the worst modern attempt at noir on the market, but contains enough stiff performances to make it a chore to get through. Even Billy Zane, try as he might to muster though, appears to give up trying in a few scenes. Add to that a less than noteworthy technical presentation and you can pass on this one. Skip It.