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1985's Revolution pleased absolutely nobody in its disastrous theatrical debut, grossing almost nothing on a 28 million dollar investment. Audiences found little to like in Hugh Hudson's vast epic of America's Revolutionary War, citing a weak story and a poor romantic pairing of the ill cast Nastassja Kinski and method star Al Pacino. Pacino was roundly criticized for his choice of vocal accents. Subsequent pan-scanned TV screenings deprived the film of its epic scope, further diminishing its reputation. Few people saw the movie in its original 70mm run.
24 years later, Revolution is back as Revolution: Revisited. Director Hudson (Chariots of Fire) and star Pacino have re-cut the movie, subtracting ten minutes of running time and adding a narration that works to clarify the film's storyline. What was once long, dull, difficult to follow and, worst of all, dramatically inert now at least makes sense. In the interview featurette included with the disc, Hugh Hudson claims that his film was rushed to completion before it was ready, and that many of the changes in the new Revisited version should have been done in 1985.
Interestingly, Revolution is much more attuned to the tastes of today's audience than those of the Ronald Reagan years, when patriotic filmmaking was expected to look and sound like Rambo. Revolution puts its historical aspect ahead of its characters' personal stories, letting the "sweep of history" dictate the flow of the story. Revolution: Revisited is definitely worth another look. If you really want to see a bad Al Pacino movie, Bobby Deerfield is the picture for you.
Widower and trapper Tom Dobb (Al Pacino) comes to New York to sell his furs, only to see his boat confiscated by the anti-British rebels and his pre-teen son Ned (Sid Owen, later Dexter Fletcher) conscripted into the Continental Army. Stunned, Tom signs up to protect Ned, and participates in a battle fought across the river in Brooklyn Heights. The colonials are easily routed by Redcoats commanded by Sgt. Major Peasy (Donald Sutherland), a moody strategist whose duties seem to include procuring drummer boys for the "entertainment" of higher ranking officers.
Back in Manhattan, socialite Daisy McConnahay (Nastassja Kinski) defies her family to cheer on the rebels, and ruins a family dinner by biting the ear of an English officer (Richard O'Brien) getting fresh with her sister. Joining the Continental Army, Daisy meets Tom Dobb several times over the next few years, forming a romantic attraction to him.
Ned is captured by the British, conscripted as a Redcoat drummer boy, and beaten when he refuses to go to an officer's tent. Tom risks his life to sneak into the enemy camp to free him. Both are saved by Indians sympathetic to the colonials. Soon Tom, Ned and his Indian friends are scouting for George Washington. Ned no longer believes that his father is a coward, and they become committed fighters in the revolution.
On the surface Revolution is an impressive production, with massive scenes in New York City featuring hundreds of authentic costumes and period detail. The one battle against formal lines of British troops was criticized for being hand-held; a style that now seems entirely appropriate. The movie is especially good at conveying the chaos that comes with civil upheaval, as Tom's property is seized and his son kidnapped "for the cause". He's given an IOU for his boat and doesn't realize that his chances of redeeming it are almost nil. Meanwhile, the rich folk in Manhattan go about their business cozying up to the British occupiers and even throwing their daughters at them, despite the fact that the Redcoat officers treat them with contempt.
Revolution jumps about in time in a way that makes the characters' story sort of an ongoing sidebar to the momentum of the revolution. This historical attitude frustrated and bored audiences expecting Tom Dobb and Daisy McConnahay's story to turn into a romantic adventure, sort of a semi-urban Last of the Mohicans. Actually, the way the love story is curtailed is almost guaranteed to disappoint romance fans. The film is really the story of father and son, and as such compares interestingly with Robert Mitchum in River of No Return or Burt Lancaster in The Kentuckian. Al Pacino isn't exactly Mr. Action Man; he's no replacement for either of those outdoorsy male stars.
The unconventional narrative strings together a number of telling episodes over time -- the rescue of Ned, a winter at Valley Forge. Redcoat officers force Tom to serve as a substitute fox in a fox hunt, a harrowing sequence not much different from The Most Dangerous Game -- if the decadent Brits think Tom's cheating, or if they simply get bored, they'll kill him just for sport.
I can't see English audiences liking the portrayal of British officers as sadists and pederasts, but Hugh Hudson claims that the research in the script by Robert Dillon ("X",
French Connection II) is accurate. As such, the movie is a good contender to replace that tired Disney fossil Johnny
Warner Home Entertainment's DVD of Revolution: Revisited is a very good-looking enhanced transfer of this richly photographed epic. The running narration by Pacino sounds like a bad idea, but it is generally unobtrusive and roots our interest in the events on screen. I don't know what was removed in the ten minutes trimmed from the film; Hudson implies that the entire movie was re-cut.
A trailer is included but the main extra is a featurette recording a lengthy discussion by Pacino and Hughes. Pacino rushes to defend his maligned accent as authentic and carefully coached; that effort apparently sailed over audiences' heads. After muddling through a discussion of the film's dismal box office showing they become more enthusiastic about their revision effort. Plot-wise it's still the same show, devoid of easy rah-rah escapism and particularly ineffectual as a romance. But with decent movies about the Revolutionary War being so rare, Revolution: Revisited deserves a second chance.
In a small but featured role, vocalist Annie Lennox plays a tattooed revolutionary firebrand, urging on the rebels.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Revolution: Revisited rates:
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