"Sword of War" may very well be a better film that I'm giving it credit for, but when you make a period epic and choose to dub 97% of your cast, you do yourself no favors. Renzo Martinelli's fairly competently shot, but ultimately bloated and dull epic is boring beyond comprehension, promising viewers an eventual standoff between our hero Alberto da Giussano (Raz Degan) and Federico Barbarossa (Rutger Hauer) a figure based in reality. The confrontation eventually comes but after over an hour of tedious set-up that by the time it's all done and said feels pointless, relegating da Giussano's formation of the Company of Death, 900 fierce rebel warriors to around 45 minutes of rushed screen time that still manages to make stops along the way for overwrought attempts at drama and intrigue.
It's a shame Martinelli chooses to be so decadent in his direction, delivering a pleasing visual sense of style that occasionally reaches far beyond its limitations resulting in hokey looking attempts at epic filmmaking. The snail's pace approach to storytelling isn't aided by the fact that "Sword of War" is largely uninspired, borrowing loose elements from better, but not necessarily good films. Compounding problems is the script which asks viewers to sympathize with the oppressed da Giussano, however it is Hauer's performance, which is light years beyond Degan's but still phoned in that will have viewers wanting the focus on Barbarossa and not the dull da Giussano and his band of clichés. The most memorable performance comes from F. Murray Abraham, as the devilishly reptilian second-tier villain, Siniscalco Barozzi. Abraham gives you a force to root against and the resolution of his character arc is the only real satisfying moment of the film.
I honestly struggle to remember anything memorable about "Sword of War," it merely exists and its mere existence is an exercise in frustration. Martinelli's final set-piece an action packed, bloody battle between the Company of Death and Barabrossa's forces does redeem the mess that precedes it, but just barely; knowing the historical fate of Barbarossa also saps the film of a great deal of tension, a critical flaw in a film that uses such a character as the primary antagonistic force. "Sword of War" is a tedious and boring, and the choice to dub the foreign cast makes it hard to take the stilted dialogue with any more seriousness. I don't understand why Abraham and Hauer were left to speak their native dialogue while the original performances by the rest of the cast were subtitled. While such an approach was very common to Italian productions of decades past, such as the Spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone, here it's just brutal and casts an unintentional haze of humor to moments that are intended to be dead serious. In short, "Sword of War" has nothing to offer anyone.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is more than competent, rendering colors with lifelike quality and clarity. Detail levels fall into the above average category, while digital noise is minimal. The contrast levels could be a little stronger, sometimes giving blacks a washed out look, a shining example of being higher than desired.
The English 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track is passable, with the largest problem, unbalanced dialogue levels an obvious result of ADR work dubbing in the foreign speaking cast. Some characters vary in volume in the same scene to noticeable effect, while Hauer for instance is very low in his speech. The surrounds are used reasonably well in action scenes, doing the best it can with pedestrian sound design.
The lone extra is a less than 10-minute behind-the-scenes featurette covering the production. It feels largely self-promotional than informative.
"Sword of War" is one of the most forgettable films I've come across in some time. Martinelli's production shows promise but is hampered by a bloated script, terrible editing, and the unforgivable sin of dubbing the majority of his cast. Fans of period epic action may be intrigued by the thought of bloodshed on the battlefield, but even in that category, "Sword of War" isn't worth the slog. Skip It.