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RUNNING TIME: 101 Minutes
• "Anatomy of a Thriller" featurette
"The vendetta was just the beginning."
Ralph Fiennes (Maid in Manhattan), Donald Sutherland (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Tom Hollander (Enigma), Lara Flynn Boyle (Men in Black II)
Admittedly her letter was easy to find, but the light fixtures was a low blow.
In an elitist totalitarian state that exists somewhere between current political realities and Nazi Germany, Joe (Fiennes) works as a guard at a maximum-security prison. He takes an interest in former playwright John Thorne (Sutherland), imprisoned for working to incite rebellion through the words and violent actions of his Citizens for Justice and Democracy. Their discussions of corruption and political ideals begin to cause the patriotic yet open-minded Joe doubts about the strong-arm rule of the simple-minded President Maximilian (Hollander) and his first lady (Boyle). Eventually Joe finds himself in a position to enable Thorne to restore the government to their shared ideals. Only later will he discover there is also much they do not share.
Also popular with preschoolers, Crayola’s Guantanamo Brown was a monster hit with the mentally infirm.
The last few years have seen a boom in cynical political thrillers about government corruption, although I’m sure I don’t know why. Something to do with hating freedom I imagine. While films like Syriana and The Constant Gardener aimed for gritty reality, V for Vendetta added a touch of the surreal. Or perhaps more than a touch, depending on how many comic books you read.
Land of the Blind‘s similar fondness for Orwellian excesses, strong British flavor, and close release date make comparisons with Vendetta inevitable. Indeed the first half of the film is close enough to make copyright lawyers twitch. There’s the quasi-fascist government, the less than free press, the naïve protagonist, and the wise mentor who speaks in verse to persuade him/her to join the fight against authority.
He wasn’t what she’d call the best of lovers, but he did have the worst of estate lawyers.
Only Land, skillful cinematography notwithstanding, is a modest indie affair, not a flashy Wachowski production. It has no slick action scenes or visual effects to fall back on.
Nor does it require such aids for the highly entertaining first half, which is thought provoking and often satirically amusing. Early on Joe accuses Thorne of harming innocent bystanders in his crusade, to which the latter replies, "Nobody standing by is innocent." If not a wholly original sentiment, it strikes me as key to understanding some of the reasoning on both sides of the "war on terror." Should passive civilians be held directly responsible for the questionable actions of their governments? The question itself would not seem so very unreasonable if it didn’t often lead to abhorrent violence.
Of all the blocks, in all the city, I had to overstay my meter on Dredd’s beat.
On the lighter side the TV news broadcasts echo Robocop‘s crass commercialism: in one the anchors seamlessly segue from a report on political prisoners writing protest messages with excrement to a pitch for detergent. Maximilian’s parliament is stocked exclusively with former movie actors whose influence is directly related to their degree of critical acclaim. The diminutive strongman himself spends most of his time making derivative action films so dire not even Coolio would touch them.
The defense ministers enjoyed their close proximity to power, but not so much on chili day.
Whereas Vendetta ends with the onset of revolution, that is only the midway point in Land, and it’s unfortunately downhill from there. Although it is ambitious to address the challenges of transitioning from an idealistic revolutionary government to a stable, democratic one, this is done in a heavy-handed manner that is entirely too familiar. Echoing countless others, Joe remarks, "Under the old government man exploited man, but since the revolution it’s the other way around." Just when it seems the film’s imagination has run completely dry, there’s a bizarre twist that invites the audience to experience Joe’s precarious grip on reality.
Now, before I have to summon Jabba again, what part of "Greedo shoots first" didn’t you understand?
Fiennes and Sutherland turn in their usual solid performances, but it is Hollander’s slimy tyrant who really lights up the screen. Supremely arrogant and childishly petulant, he owns every scene whether dressing down staff on the toilet or dressing up like an infant to play doctor with Boyle, or "Mom." The character’s so entertaining I found myself almost wishing totalitarian rule would persevere.
Screenwriter/director Robert Edwards’ first feature film is certainly worth a look, if primarily for the wry first act. Provided someone in Hollywood was watching I expect great things from him in the future.
Joe only hoped the roofie wouldn’t kick in before she signed the check.
The cover art shamelessly apes Fiennes’ better known The Constant Gardener. It’s not really the best tactic for a film already struggling to stand out.
The only extra is the mislabeled "Anatomy of a Thriller" featurette, in which the director and cast briefly explain their affection for the concept and each other while barely touching upon the filmmaking process.