Judge Adam Arseneau doesn't know how to say, "Holy crap, look out for that land mine!" in Spanish. Luckily, he lives in Canada, where the issue has yet to come up.
War! Ungh! What is it good for?
Even from the first few minutes, Warriors (AKA Guerreros) will be instantly familiar to anyone who has seen at least one war film in the last forty years. On the plus side, Guerreros emulates the best of them with perfect accuracy, panache, and intensity; but on the negative, takes a hit in the originality department. Does this Spanish contender have what it takes to separate itself from the pack?
Hey, don't ask me. Keep reading!
Facts of the Case
In 2000, numerous countries participated in an effort to rebuild war-torn Kosovo, despite the ongoing genocidal slaughter of Albanians at the hands of Serbian militants. Despite their neutral intentions, a Spanish platoon of soldiers sent to rebuild the infrastructure of the demolished country finds themselves drawn into a conflict that they have absolutely no stake in whatsoever…outside of a burning sense of justice and right.
Private Soldado Vidal finds himself torn between his devotion to duty and his own personal sense of right and wrong. Though his mission is decisively non-military, Vidal cannot help but be drawn into the chaotic and torturous actions occurring just under his nose. The rest of the platoon soon turns decidedly hostile toward his cavalier spirit, and he lands in trouble with his superiors.
Then, on a routine mission with a French platoon, the Spanish troops find themselves involved in a conflict with Albanian militant refugees, a conflict they couldn't care less about. And yet, it erupts like a powder keg, and soon, the platoon is fighting for their lives, in a war they care nothing about, learning that the lines between "good" and "evil" soon wash away on the battlefield.
It is interesting to see war films totally removed from the Hollywood system, especially when, from start to finish, they could have been spewed from the PowerBook of any number of Hollywood scribes. Nary an American soldier appears in this film at all, and yet, it simply oozes Hollywood panache, cliché, and predictability. There is a point to be made here, I am sure, but it eludes me.
I am no expert on the Spanish film industry, but rest assured, Guerreros will play easily in your living room, and feel as familiar as an old shoe soaked with mud, gun oil, cordite, and blood. Nominated for three Goya awards (here I thought they only made a wide variety of food products in your grocery store, but apparently, they also honor achievement in Spanish cinema), Guerreros touches on all the proper bases for a cynical war film to address: war is bad, war is pointless, we fight an enemy we know nothing about, the enemy of our enemy is our friend…sometimes, and of course, all the personal soul-searching and madness that only a good tour in a foreign country can provide, with large doses of intense, brutal action to top it all off. While this doggedly formulaic approach assures a certain level of enjoyment and success to Guerreros, it also severely hampers its spontaneity and originality, and leaves it to fight for its individuality amid a sea of impersonators, imitators, and the thousands of other war films almost identical to it.
Guerreros certainly has its share of exceptional moments. The cinematography is riveting, highly reminiscent of the kinetic, fast-paced, high-film-speed visual style of Black Hawk Down, of which this film cannot help but be incredibly derivative. The cast performance is impressive overall, with strong performances despite some nagging questions of character development that shall be addressed later. The dramatic tension goes up and down throughout the film, but at its highest peaks, the film is a nail-biting, gut-wrenching experience. At its lowest peaks, however, it feels dull and uninspired. Unfortunately, most of the more astounding moments become lost, sandwiched between the mediocre double-punch of a weak script and rushed, vacuous character development, but nevertheless, Guerreros is a solid action film that pulls few punches.
Indeed, the subject matter at times is awfully unsettling, especially with the knowledge that the events (though absolutely fictional) were at least based in the reality of Kosovo only a few years previous, which is just messed up if you think about it. The images depicted illustrate a harsh and brutal reality that the country is still coming to terms with. Guerreros balances the fine point between depicting the atrocious, realistic violence of war with the sensibilities of a relatively low-budget production value (at least, compared to Hollywood-style war films).
Nevertheless, Guerreros on DVD looks and sounds great. The anamorphic widescreen transfer is incredibly sharp and vivid, with an incredible level of detail and sophistication to the transfer. With the exception of a small amount of film damage, dust, and water spots, the transfer is impeccable and incredibly meticulous, with absolutely no edge enhancement to be seen and only the occasional anti-alias shimmer. The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack (both English and Spanish dialogue) is punchy in the right places, and captures the whiz of bullets and the gut-pounding bass of explosions with authentic accuracy. A better surround sound option would have been preferable (considering the total lack of supplementary content) but overall, the Dolby Digital mixes sound pretty darn well, all things considering.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The film is somewhat anti-climactic, and by the time the end credits roll, the point of Guerreros seems lost amidst senseless violence—not senseless in the pejorative sense, as in, an excess of violence, but as in, "this violence doesn't make any sense." Characters seem to literally degrade before our eyes, suddenly, and plunge into darkness, and the transition from fully functional platoon of well-trained Spanish soldiers into absolutely raging lunatic psychotic killers seems…well, spontaneous, like somebody compressing the first two hours of Apocalypse Now into sixteen seconds. Simply put, these things take time to develop—at least, to develop in a believable fashion.
Though a well-acted and well-executed film, performance-wise, the characters act as if in fast-forward, trying to show some semblance of moral development and fiber crammed into 15 minutes of screen time. If we, as the viewer, are to believe that men can crumble into the depths of personal despair, and fall into the blackness of the human heart through the atrocities of war, we need more than a 20-second letter-writing sequence to develop the personality of the character. That way, we know he wasn't just an asshole to begin with.
More reminiscent of a B-grade American war film than an outstanding Spanish cinematic achievement, Guerreros offers the same tired wartime clichés that North American films have been deconstructing for generations: war is bad, war is senseless, why do we fight, we don't care about your war, and so on. You've seen it before, and most likely, you've seen it better. That doesn't make Guerreros a bad film—simply a slightly uninspired one.
But as a mindless war film, Guerreros does make all the right moves. When combined with an excellent transfer and solid performances from the cast, you have yourself a solid DVD choice for when you get the wartime itch, but want something slightly different than the norm—like seeing it all done exactly the same, but in Spanish this time.
No culpable. Y super gracias a Goya.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Review content copyright © 2004 Adam Arseneau; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.