Thursday, 2 July 2015

Black Sheep (2010)

Seven Soviet Samurai.

That's the pitch here.  It's 1941, the Germans are pouring eastward during Operation Barbarossa, and a group of seven men are about to find themselves as the only defenders of a small village against the invading enemy.

The wrinkle is that the seven men in question are escapees from the local prison camp.  They were sent on a work detail, but a Luftwaffe strafing run killed their guards and gave them the chance to flee.  Six of them are common criminals: thieves and ruffians all.  The last, a man they call "Picasso", is a stranger to them, but it seems he is known to the new commandant of the prison camp.  When the commandant sees Picasso's file in the camp records, he launches a search for the missing prisoners that will continue for the remainder of the movie.

The seven men meanwhile, have traveled to a tiny hamlet in the forest.  This is where Picasso grew up, and he assures them it should be safe, as it is not even on any map.  His assurances sound a little hollow, though, when it emerges that the Secret Police have been to the village and taken away his aunt and his cousin.

The six criminals overlook this however, being more interested in the fact that they can get food and alcohol here.  Also warm beds to share with the local women: the local men have all been shipped off to fight, and several (entirely voluntary) pairings soon emerge.

Of course, that's when German soldiers find the place.  The gang manage to hide, eluding discovery, but they now find themselves in the unexpected position of wanting to defend the community of which they've become a part.

Through the first ninety minutes of this two-hour film I was sure I was going to give it a Qualified Recommendation; the qualification being "as long as you don't mind your movies on the grim side".  Alas, the final half hour falls apart pretty badly.  Several parts of the action sequences are a muddled mess, and they're peppered with what are obviously meant to be big, dramatic moments that almost all fall flat (there are two that work quite well - notably the ones that hew closer to the more understated tone of the film's first two acts).

Oh, and forget about ever learning why the commandant was so keen to find Picasso.  That's never revealed.  A movie-long subplot without a conclusion.

Given the solid (if grim) first ninety minutes, it's a real shame how badly this one goes off the rails.

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