Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Flesh+Blood (1985)

When a nobleman betrays his oath to his mercenary soldiers, a group of them strike back by assaulting him and kidnapping his son's fiancee.  A deadly struggle emerges between the son and the mercenary leader, as each of them tries to claim the young woman, and she in turn does whatever she must to survive.

Paul Verhoeven's English-language breakthrough was Robocop, but his first film after moving to Hollywood was this one.  Flesh+Blood shares the strong violence and black sense of humor of the later film, but is quite different in some other ways.  For one thing, the humor is bleak as well as black: while Robocop is so uniformly over-the-top that it's not as horrifying as it should be, this film portrays a terrible, miserable setting in which to live.

In addition to the bleakness of the overall tone, the film continues its confronting style with strong sexual content (something Verhoeven returned to with Basic Instinct and Showgirls), and the absence of any hero.  No-one in the film has much of a moral compass, and even those who show a flicker of decency are easily bribed or blackmailed into unethical acts.

Given all the facts above, the film probably was probably always a little risky as a commercial proposition.  You can sell unpleasant characters with sex (Verhoeven did it in Basic Instinct after all) but it can very easily go awry.  This movie's chances were doubtless not helped by its troubled production: Verhoeven was forced to add a major new plotline at the last minute to include Jennifer Jason Leigh's character, had a quarrel with star Rutger Hauer that ended their long working relationship, and experienced considerable discipline issues with his cast as a whole.

Flesh+Blood will definitely not be to all tastes.  The lack of a hero to root for, the general unpleasantness of the time it depicts, and the graphic content will all put some people off.  The sometimes uneven tone is also problematic.  The film sensibly attempts to lighten the tone of mud, blood and misery at times, but it does so in ways that are rather discordant with the rest of the tone.  Overall however, if you're not put off by the graphic content and rather grim setting, there is an interesting film in here about the lengths people will go to in order to get what they want: whether what they want is revenge, a possession, or simply to survive.

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