Years before the current list of serious box office underachievers were exhaustively debated over for weeks on the blogosphere, notorious über flops like Ishtar and Baron Munchausen were routinely examined and dissected in film publications throughout the land. Another feature which usually factored somewhere towards the top of those lists was 1985’s period epic Revolution.
Rushed through pre-production despite director Hugh Hudson’s insistence that a voice-over was necessary to give focus to the events in the film, it resulted in a huge failure at the time, clearing up (rather unfairly) at that year’s Razzies, and causing heart-broken star Al Pacino to take a cinematic hiatus until 1989’s Sea of Love.
After tirelessly campaigning to have another crack at the film, Hudson was at the BFI last week (with a suitably intrigued audience in attendance) to present Revolution: The Director’s Cut. The film is now out on the BFI’s own label in the dual DVD/Blu-ray format.
In a refreshing departure from the usual additional material director’s cuts, Hudson has actually exorcised over ten minutes of screen time from the original. The director has also put together an exhaustive voice-over (recorded by Pacino a couple of years back). Although there remains a nagging suspicion that Hudson may have had The Thin Red Line on rotation whilst he was writing this, it essentially acts as an intended narrative bonding device, and Pacino’s notably older and sagely delivery actually adds an additional gravitas to the film.
His character, Tom Dobb, is a widowed and weary trapper from New York whose only interest is keep his surviving child Ned (Sid Owen) safe in the perilous and volatile landscape during the American Revolution. When his impressionable son naively signs himself up to be a soldier, pacifist Tom has no choice but to also join the draft in order for the two to stay together.
During the fighting, father and son finds themselves crossing paths with an aristocrat (Nastassja Kinski) who has denounced her upper-class status to support the rebels. She slowly becomes drawn to the vulnerable and desperate pair, which is more than can be said for a remorseless British Sergeant (Donald Sutherland) who is an ever-threatening presence during Tom and Ned’s plight.
While Revolution still suffers from some haphazard plotting at times, and a couple of accents remain problematic (it’s a shame Hudson didn’t book any new ADR session with Sutherland, whose vocal work is Darth Vader by way of Emmerdale Farm) the bad reputation it has garnered throughout the years feels a little unjustified.
The chaos and confusing war can bring is captured incredibly well here. You can almost smell the desperation and suffering, and that lack of sheen is one of the film’s key strengths. Hudson’s down and dirty camerawork offers an Alan Clarke-vibe, particularly as father and son first struggle around the filthy and rain-sweep cobbled streets (with Kings Lynn in Norfolk providing a surprisingly effective stand-in).
Pacino was singled out for ridicule by some critics at the time due his supposedly distracting contemporary Noo Yawk accent. It’s an overly harsh criticism, and while the actor may not have perfected the cadences of that time, his character’s dogged resilience presents a far more watchable turn than many of his hammy, latter-day performances. The biggest surprising in the acting stakes however, is the man who in future would answer by the name “Riiicckkkyyyy!!!” EastEnders veteran Owen gives an appealingly honest and unshowy performance as Ned. When the film skips a few years into the future towards the end, fellow British thesp Dexter Fletcher inhibits the role, but unfortunately, he’s isn’t offered anything close to the emotionally meaty scenes Owen gets to perform.
Curiosity will undoubtedly be the main draw for many cineastes placing this on their films-to-watch list, and while it’s fair to say a masterpiece hasn’t been crafted from this endeavour, Revolution is certainly a very watchable film which stands well above its much-maligned cinematic counterparts of the time.