Well, this is a rarity. A film I've never heard of! It stars Al Pacino and Donald Sutherland and on first impressions seems to be one of those 80s historical epics which should have won a bunch of awards. However it was rushed and became a global flop, which was slammed by critics upon release.
This film is a BFI (British Film Institution) edition and I am a fan of what they do. Enclosed in the package are both DVD and Blu-ray editions the film, as well as a booklet with extensive essays, but also has a spoiler warning on the first page. Guess I'd better watch it first!
The plot sees Tom Cobb (Al Pacino) and his son Ned sail into New York to sell furs during the start of the American Revolution against British rule. Ned is pressganged into joining the war and Tom is forced to sign up in order to protect his only son.
What follows is the journey of father and son throughout the war and seen from Tom's point of view.
They encounter Daisy McConnahay (Nastassja Kinski), a rich aristocrat who abandons her family to help the war effort, and Tom falls in love with her for her sacrifice. At one point Ned is captured by the British and Donald Sutherland is good, portraying the stern Sergeant Major Peasy. They travel, meet some Indians and survive the war together.
Now this film wasn't an easy to watch and didn't grab me at all, despite being a completely rejigged Director's Cut, overseen by Pacino and director Hugh Hudson, which attempts to address some of the issues with the original release. It's overlong, has bad acting, shoddy camera work and an annoying soundtrack. It uses many long takes (which in my general opinion adds realism) but unfortunately in this case it makes some scenes drag. It also has many shaky handheld shots (a la Paul Greengrass) but this makes the film feel a little amateurish, with the camera bumping around the actors. Don't get me wrong though, as there are many fantastic shots of the American landscape. These, ironically, were actually filmed in England.
However the first thing I noticed about this film is the terrible ADR (voice dubbing) sound mix. Some actor's lip syncs are terrible and distracts from what they are saying, as well as the movie in general. However the dirty sets, costumes and actors add a sense of realism and I'm glad this film isn't blindly patriotic, showing the struggle Americans went through to achieve independence. It shows the dark, muddy side with little hope for survival or glory.
There are many things I like about war films and I'm pleased to say that this film has them. Revolution was made to show the war from the point of view of the poor – from the gutter if you will. The soldiers fighting weren't told what they were doing and neither is the audience. The first firefight is presented as a battle of statistics, with formation and calculated shooting being the winning factor. It shows the futility of war and how the government will always screw over the little man who fight and die for them. They always send the poor and the poor suffer for the rich.
Daisy is an interesting character, as she has a choice between living in a rich family and aiding her country's blind fight for freedom and ‘liberty'; a word used for men to enter their graves. She is shown as the Good Samaritan and fortunately isn't one dimensional. By contrast the British are shown as the generic bad guys and stereotypically personified by Richard O'Brian's Lord Hampton, who has got to have the most annoying accent I have ever heard in a film!
Al Pacino is great as his was in this era, but he needs a bit more to work with. His narration (newly added for this Director's Cut) adds depth and history to a country which is changing into a nation.
On the special features front, the DVD has the standard trailer which, unlike the film, made me interested in watching it. However it is full of spoilers and features a synthesiser heavy 80s soundtrack.
The release also has some excellent content looking back at the film. ‘Re-cutting Revolution' shows side-by-side comparisons of the original theatrical version and the shorter Director's Cut, with interesting and insightful commentary from director Hugh Hudson. He himself admits that some scenes and shots drag on, so they trimmed a lot to make it tighter, snappier and as Hudson says, 'modern'. This extra reveals amongst other things that this film was indeed rushed for Oscar season and as such suffered. He wanted to re-edit this film to his original vision, and I am glad he had the chance. For this 2009 cut Hudson did indeed get his ‘new turn'.
Other extras include ‘Hugh Hudson on Revolution' and ‘Revisiting Revolution: a conversation with Al Pacino and Hugh Hudson'. Here we discover some fascinating insights into the production, funding and reception by audiences and critics alike. Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger were sought after for the role of Tom, which I believe would have been fatal although may have made more money at the box office. During the 80's there was a huge influx of Reagan-ist films, where one muscle-bound solider disposed of the faceless enemy all for the glory of America. This film is the opposite and I'm glad Pacino got the job.
Like the revolution itself, this production seemed to be a battle with America who, for example, wouldn't let them film there, then complained when it was filmed in the UK, as well as casting a British man as George Washington and various distribution and critical issues.
SPOILER ALERT: Although this film is British, Warner Brothers only agreed to fund the film if it included a happy ending where Daisy meets up with Tom and we presume they live happily ever after. Like the similar ‘happy ending' attached to the theatrical version of Blade Runner (1982), this ending was omitted from the Director's Cut as Hudson hated it. I agree, as the bleak ending matches the tone of the film and make us remember that even after the horrors of the world, life goes on. END SPOILERS
Ultimately this film is a father and son journey across America and its history. Tom's struggle is long, but he relates to the land and its people and wants to fight for not only the future of himself and his son, but also for the future of the nation. The ending hints that he has endured and will now do great things, possibly become a congressman, but I was left with the sense that this was just another mans story in a world where he will never be remembered.
Overall Verdict: Just like Tom, this film drags you through the mud, leaving you careless of every other character and wanting to move onto something better. Ultimately I found that in a film with this much scope, not a lot happened and this seems to be another bad thing that history has swept under the rug.
Optional presentation of the original theatrical version of Revolution (Blu-ray only)
‘Revisiting Revolution' (DVD only) Documentary
‘Hugh Hudson on Revolution' Featurette
‘Re-cutting Revolution: the Deleted Scenes' (DVD only) Featurette
Original theatrical trailer (DVD only)
Extensive booklet with essays by Nick Redman, Philip French, John Corigliano, Michael Brooke; reviews and a director biography
Reviewer: George Elcombe