Director: Renzo Martinelli
Screenplay: Renzo Martinelli, Giorgio Schottler & Anna Samueli
Producer: Renzo Martinelli
Starring: Rutger Hauer, Raz Degan, F. Murray Abraham, Christo Jivkov, Antonio Cupo
Duration: 133 min
BBFC Certification: 15
Still going strong even though he's approaching 70, Rutger Hauer has enjoyed a bit of a renaissance in the last few years with small roles in Batman Begins and Sin City leading up to what sounds to be his peak performance in the forthcoming Hobo With a Shotgun. Unfortunately, amongst these plum cult-movie roles Hauer continues to take on trashy straight-to-DVD nonsense like Barbarossa. I guess in this case you can't blame him, as judging by the reasonable budget (for an Italian production) it looks as though the film was supposed to be Italy's big blockbuster of 2009. Of course the film didn't even light up the local theatres as much as expected and the rest of the world simply weren't interested.
Barbarossa is about the titular German King who wreaked havoc across Italy in his quest to become the Holy Roman Emperor (excuse my poor grasp of history if I get anything wrong). He gets more than he bargained for though when he tries to bring down Milan, as Alberto da Guissano (Raz Degan) will do all he can to challenge the Emperor and reclaim freedom for the Milanese.
It's pretty much an Italian Braveheart, so lots of liberty-taking mythologising of history with bloody battles and stirring speeches. It's even got characters shouting “freedom” several times. Unfortunately, it's much clunkier and far less fun than Mel Gibson's cheesy awards-magnet. The writing is atrocious, with exposition ladled out with little care for subtlety or believability. In one example, as Barbarossa literally walks down the aisle to marry his young bride, two of his commanders describe in detail exactly what is going on and the implications of her age. The wooden acting and shoddy dubbing doesn't help either, although the Italians have a history of not taking too much care over their ADR, so I could live with that. Hauer isn't firing on all cylinders which was a shame, although he's the best thing in it other than maybe F. Murray Abraham who is pretty decent, but doesn't belong here.
It is a classy production though at least from a technical standpoint. It looks expensive (other than a bit of shoddy CGI) and there are a couple of impressive shots, including some nice crane work in the opening. The production design and makeup are all solid too, creating a dirty, believable vision of the time and place. The battle scenes benefit from this and are the standout moments of the film. They are appropriately bloody and make good use of trebuchets when Milan is under siege.
Decent production values and a couple of exciting battle scenes aren't enough to save the film though. As watchable as it is, it's far too bland, poorly written and long to recommend and just comes across as dull when it should be rousing, fun or at least informative.
Barbarossa is out on DVD on 4th April in the UK, released by Metrodome. The DVD contains no special features, but the picture and sound quality are decent.
Review by David Brook