Friday, February 26, 2010

Film Review: FLESH + BLOOD (1985, Paul Verhoeven)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 128 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Rutger Hauer (BLADE RUNNER, THE HITCHER), Jennifer Jason Leigh (FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH, MARGOT AT THE WEDDING), Susan Tyrrell (FAT CITY, CRY-BABY), Brion James (BLADE RUNNER, SOUTHERN COMFORT), Ronald Lacey (Toht in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK), Tom Burlinson (THE MAN FROM SNOWY RIVER), Bruno Kirby (Young Clemenza in THE GODFATHER PART II), Jack Thompson (BREAKER MORANT, SHORT CIRCUIT). Cinematography by Jan de Bont (who went on to direct TWISTER and SPEED 2: CRUISE CONTROL).
Tag-line: "A timeless adventure, a passion for wealth and power. Only the strongest will survive."
Best one-liner: "From now on, we'll eat like this. And whoever can't, best stay the stupid asshole he always was!"

I'll begin with two quotes by Paul Verhoeven which seem apropos to this film: "People love seeing violence and horrible things. The human being is bad and he can't stand more than five minutes of happiness. Put him in a dark theater and ask him to look at two hours of happiness and he'd walk out or fall asleep." and "Remember that Christianity is a religion grounded in one of the most violent acts of murder, the crucifixion. Otherwise, religion wouldn't have had any kind of impact."

A lot of people like to pin down Paul Verhoeven as 'the guy who did SHOWGIRLS,' and while he cannot erase the fact that he is indeed guilty of being the guy who did SHOWGIRLS, he's one of the most audacious filmmakers to emerge from post-WWII Europe. FLESH + BLOOD is Machiavellian power games, feculent whores, stillborn children, nun snipers, yellowed teeth, and dogs lapping up pools of diseased gore. This movie is absolutely BRUTAL.

Every single character looks out for number one, and here, 'looking out for number one' means ripping an earring (and a chunk of flesh) from a woman as she's being raped or using 'God's word' when it's to your liking (Verhoeven has called organized religion a symptom of societal schizophrenia). Any time there's a moment for levity or genuine romance, it's immediately undercut by something like the rotting genitals or random carrion.

Take a gander at this lovely idyll, for instance.

It’s not exactly a historically accurate depiction of medieval warfare and the Black Death, and it doesn't quite take place in the 14th Century... sixty years ago it took place on the battlefields of Europe. Verhoeven was just a kid then, but he was there. As we speak, it's being waged by talking heads on TV, by hypocrites behind closed doors, and by vicious opportunists from here to the far corners of the world.

Where an exploitation flick would insert a rape scene so the viewer could feel 'morally superior' as they enjoyed some T&A, Verhoeven stages sexual assault as a grotesque vortex of ever-shifting power dynamics between man, woman, and the collective.

The performances are outstanding: Susan Tyrrell was born to do the Dark Ages- she enters the scene as a bawdy, pregnant, perpetually wasted whore whose life is a series of the highest, barbaric highs and the lowest, 'WHY ME?' lows:

Brion James is pure animal, ruthless but bewildered:

But mostly terrifying as all get-out.

Brion James makes the evolutionary leap to using forks and knives.

Ronald Lacey is the sinister Cardinal- malicious, but sincere (not that it matters when he's got his sword in your guts):

Jack Thompson is the beleaguered hunter, embodying an almost Peckinpah-style morality (think Robert Ryan in THE WILD BUNCH):

Clearly the Medieval equivalent of "I'm gettin' too old for this shit!"

and Tom Burlinson is the man of science, but his singlemindedness gives way to a sanctimonious depravity.

Rutger Hauer simmers and scowls- a calculating, towheaded, serpentine fiend, rapist, and murderer who might be the closest thing we've got to a 'hero.'

Though sainthood is a bit of a stretch.

And ain't this a surreal fucken sight: a BLADE RUNNER reunion! (Not to mention that Brion James is giving Rutger Hauer a goddamned wheelbarrow ride!)

Jennifer Jason Leigh- in possibly her finest performance- is a privileged, maid-beating blueblood who attends the condottiere's ‘school of hard knocks’ and emerges as perhaps the most complex and guileful of the bunch.

Nihilistic ‘entertainment’ at its best: five stars, and my highest recommendation.

-Sean Gill


J.D. said...

I've always felt that Verhoeven was one of THE most mis-understood filmmakers around. How people couldn't figure out that STARSHIP TROOPER was a satire back in the day is beyond me? And ROBOCOP is also great ultraviolent fun with a brain. He gets a permanent pass for me for those two films alone. He's an interesting filmmaker in the sense that he's not afraid to tackle taboo subjects in a way that is thoughtprovoking while also appealing to our baser instincts. I read a great quote somewhere pertaining to Verhoeven that basically said, he makes the films that America deserves.

I haven't seen FLESH + BLOOD in ages to be honest but I do recall that his early work scaring me because it was so graphic and unrelenting. But I do like both Jennifer Jason Leigh and Rutger Hauer so there's that going for it.

Sean Gill said...

Very well said, J.D.! And I'd really like to see some of his earlier Dutch stuff, but it's all out of print now, apparently. I've managed to get my hands on a SOLDIER OF ORANGE VHS, but it seems TURKISH DELIGHT and THE FOURTH MAN are pretty hard to come by, for instance.

HK Fanatic said...

Yeah, "Flesh + Blood" seems like an easier film to appreciate than actually enjoy. I do love Verhoeven ("Total Recall" is another great one from him) but the first time I watched this movie I was really put off by the overall brutality and ugliness of the world it presents. Which I suppose is saying something, since I sometimes feel like not much can phase me these days.

The rape scene in particular was very bizarre and hard to watch (ok, a rape scene is never "easy" to watch but you know what I mean).

Granted, that was probably almost 5 years ago now, so I'm overdue for revisiting it.

Anonymous said...

This movie freaked me out as a kid but I loved it!!! Verhoeven for life!

Sean Gill said...


Thanks for stopping by– and thanks for reminding me that I need to get a "Verhoeven for life" tattoo!