Flesh + Blood is currently available on Netflix instant play
PASS: Flesh + Blood (1985) – Netflix shows this as not rated but the theatrical version was rated R
“All’s fair in love and war in this swoony-but-gritty drama from filmmaker Paul Verhoeven. A band of mercenaries led by Martin (Rutger Hauer) abducts Agnes (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the daughter of the feudal lord who cheats them out of their money. In spite of the other mercenaries’ complaints, Martin grows to love Agnes, who’s waiting to be saved by her beloved. Co-stars Tom Burlinson and Jack Thompson.”
After a successful career directing in the Netherlands, Paul Verhoeven made his first English-language film, Flesh + Blood with his Soldier of Orange star Rutger Hauer. While there is much to recommend this film such as the atmosphere, Rutger Hauer in his prime and the jam-packed medieval details, I can’t really recommend watching this. I feel somewhat hypocritical panning this for a portion of its historical detail after panning Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves for its unending anachronisms and Swashbuckler for its complete whitewashing of pirates.
Rape, while prevalent during the times and circumstances of the film’s setting, is not fun to watch. It certainly isn’t fun to watch repeatedly. Multiple characters are raped, a virgin is raped, a woman leaps from a parapet with her child to her death presumably to avoid rape, serial rape, attempted gang rape, attempted oral rape, even happy rape. A rape victim even falls in love with her captor/rapist a la Stockholm Syndrome. This, combined with the ample nudity and violence would seem to make for quite the exploitation picture except that Verhoeven handles it all matter-of-factly instead of luridly.
Verhoeven keeps most of the characters in shades of gray and succeeds at creating a realistic cast with the ludicrous exception of Steven. Steven is our nominal hero who is even wiser than Azeem from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (honestly I’ll stop picking on that film once my eyes stop bleeding). He went to university and apparently studied, among other things, Arab medicine (in the 1500s really?) because he knows how to treat the bubonic plague better than a doctor. He apparently also knows how to build a massive telescoping siege engine/ramp delivery mechanism in hours with the help of only a handful of people and some axes. The only other nitpick are the fairly modern (i.e. hundreds of years anachronistic) cannons shown in one scene.
Overall the atmosphere of squalor is well handled and the castle shots are nicely handled. The action is good as is Rutger Hauer although Jennifer Jason Leigh seems out of place. I would probably recommend this film if it weren’t the heavy theme of rape through the film. This is one of my personal bugaboos as I watch films for entertainment. I’d like to leave you with a quote on the seriousness of rape from Chris Rock, “The United States, we want to capture Osama Bin Laden and murder him. We don’t want to rape him – that would be barbaric.”.
People Watch: Look for quintessential 80s villains Ronald Lacey (Raiders of the Lost Ark) and Brion James (Bladerunner) as umm villains.