Lightning Media // 2009 // 123 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Steve Power // March 18th, 2011
Battlefields run red with warrior's blood!
Sword of War began life as the sweeping epic, Barbarossa, an ambitious Italian/Romanian co-production that would endeavor to tell the tale of German Emperor Frederick Hohenstaufe the First (Rutger Hauer, Blade Runner), and his attempts to recreate the ancient empire of Charlemagne in a campaign across 12th Century Italy. A young peasant named Alberto da Giussano (Raz Degan, Alexander) would form a militia of 900, nicknamed the "Company of Death," and put a halt to his plans.
Right out of the gate, problems are evident. For a film with such a historical significance in Italy, why film the entirely of the movie in English? Beyond that, why dub the majority of the non-English speaking cast in classic spaghetti Western style? Worst of all, the film's namesake is barely more than a supporting character, with Hauer getting relatively little screen time. The film's very existence makes little to no sense outside of a hope to appeal to global markets like the UK and US, where historical epics like this one are hardly en vogue at the moment. At home in Italy, it was mercilessly slaughtered at the box office, tied into political controversy surrounding the Northern League Separatists, whose political leader makes a cameo appearance in the film. Critics would also take the film to task for the rather more righteous than reality would dictate portrayal of the historical "Lombard League."
For the North American market, we get a "dumped to video" affair, all but gutted of content and repackaged into a simple blood n' guts action fest with the equally bland title. There's a little pseudo-Braveheart gravitas thrown in to give the illusion of depth, but the movie definitely feels like it's had two or three too many passes in the editing bay.
It's sad, really, as the film itself is actually an extremely well made affair, with a great performance from Rutger Hauer, and solid turns from supporting cast members like F. Murray Abraham (The Last Action Hero), as a sniveling evil Cardinal, and French actress Cecile Cassel (younger sister of Vincent Cassell) as Barbarossa's young wife. Director Renzo Martinelli handles the bloody action scenes incredibly well, and the visuals channel the likes of early Ridley Scott. It's sad that the 139-minute cut will likely never see R1 DVD or Blu-ray players, let alone the expansive -- and supposedly fantastic in spite of its flaws -- 200-minute version shown on Italian TV.
The screener copy I was provided with for review purposes does not do the spectacular look of the film any justice whatsoever; heavily compressed visuals are married to a hissy 2.0 soundtrack and extras are non-existent. I'm told the retail release is considerably improved, and based on the strength of the film itself, I'd recommend a purchase to anyone who likes a good movie with swords in it.
Guilty of being dumbed down for North American consumption, but still an acceptable effort.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Lightning Media
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 123 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R