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  Flesh + Blood In God They Trust
Year: 1985
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Stars: Rutger Hauer, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Burlinson, Jack Thompson, Fernando Hilbeck, Susan Tyrrell, Ronald Lacey, Brion James, John Dennis Johnston, Simón Andreu, Bruno Kirby, Kitty Courbois, Marina Saura, Hans Veerman, Jake Wood, Nancy Cartwright
Genre: Historical, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: The year is 1501, the place Western Europe, and the army of Arnolfini (Fernando Hilbeck), swelled by mercenaries in their ranks, is preparing to take back his stolen castle. The cardinal (Ronald Lacey) is offering them holy communion so that they may go straight to heaven if they die, but their leader is impatient and wishes to storm the walls now. One of the mercenaries, Martin (Rutger Hauer), grabs a mouthful of wafers and demands he be blessed as quickly as possible, then rushes off to do his duty as Arnolfini's son Steven (Tom Burlinson) shows off a new explosive invention. Little do Steven and Martin know they will soon be pitted against each other...

Flesh + Blood was director Paul Verhoeven's first English language movie, finally making the move to Hollywood after being courted for a few years, even if the project was shot in Europe, using an international cast, and notably far more extreme than much that had come out of America as far as films went this decade. For a Verhoeven movie, it was about average as far as sex and violence went, but this did not stop him falling foul of the censors and the work was not widely seen, particularly in the States, at the time it was released. Nevertheless, among those who did see it were a cult following attracted by the director's reputation, and those who simply loved all the unabashed mayhem.

In its way this was the eighties equivalent of those lusty romps of the previous decades, mostly the fifties where costume melodramas were in vogue, so if you wanted to see what The Vikings would have been like if directed by Verhoeven, this was the closest you were going to get. The difference being, the blood spilt in those earlier efforts was far from ladelled on, and there certainly was not the amount of nudity and sexual scenes in them that there was here. But there was more to this than sheer sensationalism, because as usual the director had something to say about society, and most apparent in this case religion as well, so the characters here believe they are under the will of God.

However, they do not act in a holy fashion, as even the cardinal has a go at running people through with a sword as he is confident he has the Almighty on his side who will absolve him of any sins. Yet if there's one thing that they should have all learned, it's not to guess what their Lord above is thinking, and their presumptuous nature when it comes to their spiritual beliefs is their downfall. What happens is that after the mercenaries have assisted in taking back the castle, Arnolfini goes back on his promise to allow them a share of the spoils, and forces them away with his army. There's not much they can do but go along with this, but as fate would have it one band led by Martin, while taking shelter from a storm, uncover a statue of a saint - Saint Martin, as it turns out.

The cardinal is sure this is a sign from on high, and the rest of the film sees them carrying out some appalling behaviour, from rape and murder to terrible table manners, in the faith that they are on a mission from God. The holy man tells them that Martin will soon find a fortune and share it with them, so the next thing they do is attack a caravan that just so happens to contain Steven's new fiancée, Agnes (Jennifer Jason Leigh, most impressing Rutger Hauer who called her one of the finest actresses he had ever worked with). One burst of chaos later and Agnes has been kidnapped, but she is not your usual victim and works out quickly how to use her womanly wiles to ensure her survival, even becoming Martin's lover although she has promised herself to Steven.

So in effect a love triangle develops, as Martin is obviously very impressed with his new girlfriend, not quite cottoning on that she is not entirely on his side but is making the best of dire circumstances, and Steven doing his best, what with all his newfangled inventions, to win her back. It ends up as a siege in the second half, where Martin and his unlovely band hold a castle they have invaded against Steven's army, and the ideas for killing opponents simply get nastier - plague-ridden dog in the water supply, anyone? There are those who may balk at the depiction of the characters here, but Verhoeven and co-screenwriter Gerard Soetman evidently are using the excuse that it was a different era to ours and people had values that were more primitive, although what you are presumably supposed to mull over is their sobering similarities to us. Arresting, disgusting and full-blooded, this is a film that stands on its own amongst its kind. Music by Basil Poledouris.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Paul Verhoeven  (1938 - )

Dutch director who is no stranger to controversy. He became famous in his homeland for violent, sexually frank films such as Turkish Delight, Soldier of Orange (a fine war epic), Spetters and The Fourth Man, after which he moved to Hollywood.

His first American movie, Flesh + Blood, showed he meant to continue as he started, and he was rewarded with the huge hit RoboCop. This began a line of lurid science fiction adventures such as Total Recall, Starship Troopers and Hollow Man, but his sexually-themed Basic Instinct and Showgirls were equally uncompromising.

Verhoeven's sharp sense of humour tempers his over-the-top style, but he frequently sails too close to being ridiculous for many to take him seriously. The war drama Black Book, filmed in his native Holland, raised his standing once more, and his black comedy thriller Elle won great acclaim for star Isabelle Huppert.

 
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