BluRay/DVD Reviews


By • May 1st, 2013 •

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As soon as I realized what the fact-based story was about – the initial discovery of oil in the middle East – I took excitedly to my seat and prepared for an amazing tale. That event precipitated incredible worldwide shifts in finance and power. What a great idea for an historically based film.

Alas, for the first hour, this was a fairly monotone, if literate affair, despite solid performances by Mark Strong and Antonio Banderas. Shot in the deserts of Tunisia and Qatar, DP Jean-Marie Dreujou proves to be no Freddie Young (LAWRENCE OF ARABIA), and the vistas of sand grew tiresome. Likewise, James Horner’s score never caught the thematic grandeur of Maurice Jarre’s music for LAWRENCE, and at times cues seemed obviously placed to pump up the energy that was missing in the visuals and dramatics. I’m a big fan of director Jean-Jacques Annaud, have met him on occasion, and see him as France’s answer to Werner Herzog in terms of the kinds of challenging productions he chooses. QUEST FOR FIRE, THE BEAR, NAME OF THE ROSE, WINGS OF COURAGE, SEVEN YEARS IN TIBET, etc. This seemed in line with those difficult shoots, but some spark was missing…

…in the first half. However, I’m happy to report that the second half picks up considerably, as the son of one of the rulers turns out to be a born strategist, and following the canny traps he springs on his enemies is fun stuff. Practically everything clicks in the second half, but it’s a slow ride getting there.

The film starts quickly enough. A war has just been lost by Mark Strong’s army, and as part of his truce, he must give his two sons over to his victor (Banderas) to raise in his kingdom. No satisfactory explanation is given (as far as I’m concerned) for why that makes solid political sense, but it gets the story moving. We then follow one of the two children over fifteen years until trouble starts again.

Although Freida Pinto gets female star billing as Princess Leyla, and has more screen time, it’s another actress – Liya Kebede, who really grabs your attention. A tattooed tribeswoman captured and used as a slave, she transforms into something entirely different once she gains her freedom. In real life an Ethiopian model who stands 5’ 10”, she may have a three million dollar a year deal with Estee Lauder, but I think her film career could be even more rewarding. She has three more films in post-production and I’m looking forward to seeing if she fulfills her promise.

Included in the supplementals is a brief demonstration of the various digital effects used in the film. There is no discussion of the effects supplied, only before’s and after’s. But it’s still a very effective demonstration.

The picture and sound qualities are both excellent, and are most solid during the battle scenes. Perhaps every now and then a line is delivered a bit quietly. But that is probably a leftover from the shoot.

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