New Yorkers are yanking the head off the statue of the British king to demonstrate their displeasure at being his subjects as the mood turns ugly. Into this arrives trapper Tom Dobb (Al Pacino) on his boat with his wares, accompanied by his young son Ned (Sid Owen), and no sooner have they docked than the crowds comandeer his vessel for their revolutionary army, much to his frustration. He is told to meet some soldiers and ask for a chit where he can be given money and land once the war is over, but what will he do till then? An answer comes when Ned is press ganged into joining up with the Americans, and Tom has to follow...
Few films were quite as disastrous as Revolution, as this was such a flop it effectively took away the promise of a British film industry for a good ten years or more, leaving television to pick up the baton with some far lower budget efforts given largely tokenistic cinema releases before swiftly turning up on the small screen. Who knows what could have been done had this been a hit, or more likely if the oodles of cash that went into making it had been spent on something more commercial? But for Goldcrest, the company which produced it, they had faith that with a megastar like Pacino on board, they could realise director Hugh Hudson's dreams of becoming the new David Lean.
However, they should have taken heed that while Hudson's Chariots of Fire had been a blessing to the British industry, his next was Greystoke, a very serious version of Tarzan for some reason, which had a cult following but was not a blockbuster in the same way. So when Revolution was unleashed, a two hour plus trudge through the American War of Independence filmed in a deliberately down and dirty and frankly murky fashion, the reaction was a disinterested shrug from the world's cinemagoers and hoots of derision from some particularly nasty critics and media. Rarely had a film been so hammered with accusations of its bone-deep boredom, its confusion over what was supposed to be happening in it, and of course Pacino's accent.
Wherever he was meant to be from. So it was that this epic that wasn't languished in the doldrums for a good thirty years or so until Pacino and Hudson protested, look, you got it wrong, this wasn't the film we wanted to make - we can save it! Thus the director's cut, supervised by both men, was produced, a shorter, snappier and more coherent variation on the previous unwieldy behemoth. Well, it was shorter, anyway, but the addition of a voiceover from Pacino, with him still doing that accent, made it seem like you were watching the movie with the audio commentary on, except the lead actor was making his observations in character. Sad to say, no matter how much they'd tightened it up, the problems were still too much to bear: Tom remained zombielike for too often.
One of those issues was Nastassja Kinski's character, an American patriot and undeveloped love interest who harangues Tom for running away from battle, basically to save his son, and then goes on to have no real use in the rest of the story aside from a spot of tragedy to show how wicked the English were. Really, although it would be unthinkable to the investors, Kinski could have been completely edited out and made no difference to the final result whatsoever, which given her awkward performance may have been no bad thing. Elsewhere, the English were depicted with pantomime baddie relish, Richard O'Brien especially daft, though the scenery chewing honours were taken by Donald Sutherland as a redcoat sergeant who made his character from 1900 look restrained (he also sported a large, hairy mole on his face - were we supposed to believe he shaved around that?). Sadly, in spite of the salvage job done on Revolution, its lassitudes were too many to ignore: when it wasn't being silly, too often it was hard to care at all. Music by John Corigliano.
[The BFI have released this in both DVD and Blu-ray editions, extras being a trailer and featurettes on recutting the film, Hudson's opinion on it, and a conversation with him and Pacino. There is also a booklet on the film included.]