Whilst working at my newly appointed position as “Seasonal Team Member” for Cardiff’s local ODEON cinema an interesting musical cue pricked my ears halfway through my shift on a particularly dull day. The iconic electronic score made by Vangelis in 1981 for Hugh Hudson’s Oscar winning film “Chariots of Fire” is one that few aren’t familiar with. How different a tale could be told however for the film’s director himself. Sadly cast aside only a few years after Chariots release due to two very troubled and financially unsuccessful productions (one of which is the topic of this letter’s film post) Hugh Hudson has become the best British director we never had.
In 1985 Hudson’s career was at a precipice of international fame, the production of his first film after Chariots was “Greystroke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes” however don’t let the title scare you off. Hudson actually managed to faithful adapt the written story of Tarzan for the big screen but only with mediocre box office success, but it was enough for him to secure his next project. A much larger and also grander feature than many could have ever predicted, but sadly it would appear that the old saying of “the bigger they are…” can also apply to the film industry.In 1985 Hugh Hudson directed “Revolution“, the story of a father who joins the revolutionary army during the War of Independence in late 18th century America to try and save his son who joined up in order to financially support his father’s profession. As a script Revolution‘s story is a mostly unoriginal one, at times riddled with clichés and predictable character moments nearly throughout its entirety. What makes it surprisingly entertaining and well-made however is the world in which Hudson visualized for us on the screen. One which he would quickly take heat for shortly after the film’s release. Al Pacino plays the lead role of Tom Dobb, a simple fur trapper who voyages on a decade long quest to secure his son’s safety whilst also fighting for his own survival against the British army. Dobb isn’t an idealist, nor a patriot, but don’t take him for a lover of his profession either. The true heart of the character is the love and concern he has for his son, played by a young Dexter Fletcher. Again you may be reminded of countless films that have ventured down this over-trodden path, and Hudson is at least partly to blame for not delving more into the character of Dobb; but really who could blame him when you have a two hour epic set during one of the most complicated and eventful periods of American history.
Revolution‘s world is one to be greatly admired, at least from a production design standpoint. The studio that financed the film’s production, Goldcrest, went all out in creating the epic scale that Hudson’s picture demanded. The attention to details of costumes, period sets, the amazingly shot battlefields from the war, have been very lovingly recaptured for the screen, however don’t confuse love for romance. Revolution‘s recreation of the war is almost as gritty as the real events themselves; soldiers uniforms are rarely ever clean, the weather is a typical British grey with plenty of rain to muddy up the many outdoor sets featured. The streets of cities like New York are damp and insanely cramped, with almost too many extras in them, chaotically moving past the camera. One is almost reminded of the streets of the unnamed city in David Fincher’s “Se7en“. In short, the production team excelled in their task of bringing the troubled world of the revolutionary war to life, and Hudson was even clever enough to make certain that every square-inch of what the camera framed would be appreciated.
There is unfortunately something innately sad about the story behind the scenes of Revolution. Upon release the film was derided by critics, many targeting Al Pacino’s miscast performance directly, and at least for one part of their reviews they were right. Pacino is miscast as the New York born and raised fur trapper, but at least he attempts to hold together his performance as rock-steady as he can. At no point is he ever slacking whilst you watch his character’s transformation over the years of the war. It’s always refreshing to see Pacino in earlier roles during his career simply for the care and energy that he exerted, Revolution being no different. The only time I will warn anyone interested in watching Hudson’s epic is for one particular scene where Pacino comforts his wounded son in a sequence that goes on for far too long and becomes painful after the three minute mark of the shot being held. That aside, the supporting cast of Natassia Kinski, playing the doomed war-born love interest, and Dexter Fletcher do their part in keeping up the pace and consistency of Pacino’s acting and make for any interesting watch on the screen. One actor however, similar to Michael Sheen’s performance in “The Queen“, truly steals the show, ironically with only very little screen presence.
Donald Sutherland’s portrayal of an 18th century British redcoat Sgt. Maj. Peasey is an uncomfortable watch; not for his haunting performance but simply for appearance. It is truly chilling how much Sutherland looks like he belongs in the 1700’s world that Hudson created. So much so that I’ve been forced to add a fifth paragraph to this review simply because his character alone is worth an excuse to watch the movie. But I would be doing a great injustice if I didn’t also mention John Corigliano’s score for the film, one that has recently become a favourite of mine as it is not only captivating whilst being played over the bloody battle sequences and character monologues, but is also emotionally enticing to the point of much deserved applause. Some of my favourite sequences in the film were selected simply due to this articulate score. In a pathetic attempt to summarise without forgetting the many other wonderful elements of “Revolution” I will simply say that Hudson’s film is a diamond in the rough. The now modern camera style, Pacino’s misplaced but caring acting technique, and the very fact that a British filmmaker took on such an “American” of historical subjects helped to bury the film after release, causing many to sourly forget it in the following years. I am very pleased to have stumbled upon such a misunderstood film and look very much forward to the day when it is embraced again by the public, maybe the re-release of the film that put Hudson on the map in the wake of the 2012 Olympics will spark another look at this directors unfulfilled oeuvre, who knows? One can only hope given the circumstances.