War may well be hell, but the brief bursts of battlefield action come as welcome relief in the long, dull "Revolution," an unwatchable war epic that leaves history on the scrapheap.
"Revolution" was directed by Hugh Hudson, also responsible for "Chariots of Fire" and "Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan." He had more success coaxing emotion from primates than patriots.
Hudson, an Englishman, means to depict the great wheels of history turning around the Common Man. He doesn't take sides, but settles instead for bald stereotypes: The rebels are played as unwashed louts who wouldn't know what to do with freedom; the powdered and bewigged British as decadent, evil imperialists. "Revolution" was filmed in England, which Hudson unsuccessfully attempted to disguise as young America with street signs and facades and hordes of expensively costumed extras.
Part of the problem with "Revolution" is Hudson's strangely inarticulate Everyman. Darkly scowling Al Pacino, in his first period role, plays Tom Dobb, a Scottish immigrant who, when he does speak, emits what sounds like a Bronx brogue.
"It's not my fight," mumbles Dobb, an unwilling freedom fighter until he is personally humiliated by the brutish British. Later, looking like a Revolutionary Rambo complete with leather headband, Dobb develops a taste for guerrilla tactics after single-handedly rescuing his son, who has been shanghaied to be a Redcoat drummer boy, lashed to a cannon and mercilessly foot-flogged for sassing a general. The center of the film is then swallowed by a protracted scene of Pacino exercising his Method madness, whispering inanities into his agonized son's ear in extreme close-up, while some honest Indians cauterize the kid's feet.
Haphazardly woven through the eight-year war is a series of pallid and extremely unlikely encounters between monosyllabic Pacino and Nastassja Kinski, now a certified Kiss of Death for any movie. Looking bewildered and adrift, Kinski plays Daisy McConnahay, a battlefield groupie who has chosen the War of Independence as a convenient stage for her adolescent rebellion. At one point, Kinski, who seems to be improvising her lines, breathes to a soldier on the battlefield, "Look, you've got a rifle!"
Donald Sutherland, who has sprouted a hairy black mole on his cheek, plays the perfunctory part of foot-whipping Sgt. Maj. Peasy with extra starch. And making her "acting" debut is the Eurythmics' striking singer Annie Lennox, used here more as a prop than a person. Lennox plays a noncharacter (called "Liberty Woman" in the credits) who rouses the rabble with cries of "Go get 'em, boys!" as over the ramparts she watches.
Cinematographer Bernard Lutic fills the wide screen well in the battle scenes, particularly with an impressive panoramic image of England's Thin Red Line marching stolidly into rebel guerrilla gunfire -- shades of Vietnam and the English-Irish conflict are consciously evoked. Lutic also uses cine'ma ve'rite' techniques admirably, with lots of hand-held camera jiggling and jostling giving a flavor of the chaos of conflict.
Finally, almost as an afterthought, the Yanks rout the British, only to find the New World is still the same old world. Hudson briefly depicts the birth of the federal bureaucracy, then clumsily hints that America is not the promised Melting Pot. But with all the bungled romantic hogwash surrounding it, it's no wonder Hudson loses sight of the real "Revolution."
Revolution, showing at the KB Cinema, is rated PG.