E1 Entertainment // 2011 // 94 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Jim Thomas // January 9th, 2012
Thrust into Action
Destined for Greatness
The structure of a wartime special mission film is well established, and there are any number of good examples to use when developing a war movie. Director/co-writer Adrian Vitoria doesn't appear to have seen any of them, though, and the result is a movie that takes a bunch of stock characters and plot points, flings them all up in the air, and then duct tapes them together in a half-hearted attempt to create a coherent narrative. E1 Entertainment brings us Age of Heroes (Blu-ray), a war movie that breaks any number of conventions, possibly including those from Geneva.
In the early days of World War II, Corporal Rains (Danny Dyer, The Devil's Playground) finds himself in the stockade after striking a superior officer. He sees a chance for redemption in the form of Major Jones (Sean Bean, Goldeneye), who arrives to rescue a colleague who was inadvertently imprisoned. Rains convinces Jones to take him as well. Before long, Bains finds himself training for the newly formed 30 Commando Unit.
After enduring training in the Scottish highlands, the men discover their mission: a new technology, radar, lets Germany detect Allied plants seventy-five miles off the European shores. The team is to infiltrate a radar position in Norway and destroy it. The wanton destruction is only a disguise: their real mission is to bring back as much information about the German systems as possible, so that the Allies can determine how to jam the German radar. Back at naval operations, their progress is followed by the man who brought them together: the director of naval intelligence, a chap by the name of Ian Fleming (James D'Arcy, Secret Diary of a Call Girl). You may have heard of him.
Where the hell is Alistair MacLean when you really need him? The basic plot is right out of one of his novels -- commando unit with an impossible mission, a beautiful member of the Norway resistance (Izabella Miko, House of Usher), an airdrop, explosions, and, of course, Nazis.
Sadly, Age of Heroes plays out as though it was assembled by people who knew what elements are supposed to be in a good war movie, but did not understand the concept of pacing. So we get a little bit of The Dirty Dozen, a dash of The Guns of Navarone, a dollop of Where Eagles Dare, a soupçon of Inglourious Basterds, and Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, the result is a steaming pile of meh. They might have missed a war movie cliché, but only because of the limited run time. Noble leader pulled back in for one last mission? Check. Said leader's wife is expecting? Check. (Hint: Foreshadowing that a Sean Bean character is doomed is redundant. The fact that it's Sean Bean is more than sufficient. That's what he does.)
Age of Heroes combines weak characterization with a poorly focused script, clumsily directed action sequences, and indifferent editing. The sad thing is, the basics of a solid film are there; they just needed a clearer hook. Given the emphasis on the Ian Fleming link (Fleming oversaw the commando unit's developments, and the experience largely informed his Bond novels) in the promotional materials, you'd think there would be more focus there, but no. There's no character development, so we don't really care for anyone. The putative lead is Corporal Rains, but once the mission starts, the movie focuses on everyone but Rains. It's such a mess that one suspects the movie was edited by Freddie Krueger. The most frustrating thing about this movie is that buried in the piles of mediocrity are the elements for a taut war thriller.
Technically, Age of Heroes (Blu-ray) is as weak as the film. While there isn't much in the way of compression artifacts, edge enhancement, or any of the other problems that often plagued DVDs, the level of detail in this 2.35:1/1080p high definition transfer is closer to DVD than Blu-ray. Contrast levels make the snowy exteriors woefully indistinct; however, there is good detail on close-ups. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio, on the other hand, is quite good, with excellent ambient noise and effective imaging -- you really get the sense of pitched battles going on all around the camera.
In terms of extras, there's a good featurette on the history of the 30 Commando Unit, including interviews with some surviving members. We also get a few sound bites from the actors, a couple of deleted scenes, a blooper reel, and some random behind-the-scenes footage. Sadly, they're all about as unfocused as the movie itself.
Age of Heroes only theatrical release happened in Great Britain, hence the lack of a rating. In the United States, it would be a solid R due to language and some violence.
Though the script is too much of a mess for anyone to really shine, the performances are good, given what the actors have to work with. Yes, I'm reaching here. The cinematography is also pretty good, given what I suspect was a very limited budget.
The 30 Commando Unit deserves so much better than Age of Heroes (Blu-ray). For that matter, so does the audience.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* Blooper Reel