Flesh+Blood (1985)
May 15, 2023 11:52 AM - Subscribe

In medieval Europe, a young girl from a noble family is obsessed with her captors - commoners.

After being hired for an aborted coup, a group of unscrupulous warriors is abruptly disbanded. One of the mercenaries, Martin (Rutger Hauer), is determined to get revenge on his dismissive employer, Arnolfini (Fernando Hillbeck). To carry out his plan, Martin abducts the lovely Agnes (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the intended wife of Arnolfini's son, Steven (Tom Burlinson). Soon Martin and Steven are locked in an ongoing battle to see who will ultimately win the hand of Agnes.

Jennie Kermode: It's not a pretty picture. Verhoeven never bowed to Hollywood's moral conventions but here he is at his most blunt, depicting a group of characters whose powerful desires and survival instincts frequently override any civilised impulses they may conceal. At times they are unexpectedly likeable, funny and engaging, which presents a challenge to the viewer; yet ultimately we stay with them not out of sympathy but because of their intensity, because they are so boldly drawn.

Sarah Morgan: There is the germ of a compelling tale in there, but it never quite works, opting for the lurid and downright offensive rather than the subtle and intriguing.

Instead, Flesh + Blood acts more as a window into the time when it was produced, espousing views that film will, hopefully, never return to again.

Luke Goodsell: Much of this, according to production lore, is attributable to Hauer. Eager to transcend bad guy roles and empowered by his Hollywood visibility in films like Blade Runner (1982), Hauer repeatedly clashed with his old collaborator by insisting his character be more heroic. The film thus spends an almost uncomfortable amount of time frolicking with Hauer’s puffy-shirted kidnapper and rapist, positing him as a deranged Robin Hood parody of Marxism run amok 8. “You lead by your cock,” his minions accuse him, and indeed, Martin initiates a grueling and protracted gang rape of Agnes; foreshadowing Isabelle Huppert’s unpredictable victim-empowerment response in Elle. “If you think you’re hurting me you’re wrong,” Jason Leigh sneers at Hauer. “I liked it.” Here. Verhoeven suggests not only the brutality but the unpleasant complexity of rape, taboo in Hollywood productions of this size and genre.

The conflict between star and director yields a fascinating tension on screen – Verhoeven, beholden to crafting some kind of hero narrative, Hauer imbuing his creep with grandeur beyond the meek white knights on his tail. Even when the film turns toward traditional heroism, with Steven asserting his moral superiority, the good guys are never easy to root for. Steven manages to turn the tables thanks largely to a helpful bout of the black plague, and Burlinson, a non-personality – perhaps by design – is no match for Hauer’s vastly more charismatic monster.

posted by Carillon (5 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It's a wild movie. I'm definitely on the side that there was a lot of potential interest, but sorta feel let down by the plot. It drags and isn't always as interesting as it needs to be to push the movie along. Definitely helps contradict the pristine myth of the early modern period, but maybe too far along into the dung ages to be accurate as well.
posted by Carillon at 11:55 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]

I remember enjoying the movie for how unconventional it was. Besides Hauer going for a more heroic narrative for his character, Jennifer Jason Leigh's character did a lot to take control of her fate. Also, while Burlinson lacked the charisma of the other stars, Steven was a smart cookie, and used that intelligence in interesting ways.
posted by Spike Glee at 12:21 PM on May 15

I would watch any movie on cable set in the middle ages as a kid, so I naturally plunked myself down in front of this with a 2-liter of Coke and bag of potato chips... a real 180 for a 13-year-old who had just seen Ladyhawke and Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Verhoeven is a real inspiration for trash-seeking teens, he can always be counted on to take things too far, yet reliably gets an amazing cast to make a mess with. Like this movie! Aside from the principals, look at that band of mercenaries! Brion James! Susan Tyrell! Bruno Kirby!
posted by lefty lucky cat at 5:30 PM on May 15 [4 favorites]

I don't remember much about this one other then that I enjoyed it for all the things that set it apart from the Hollywood films coming out at that time.
posted by hoodrich at 12:04 PM on May 16

I keep getting the title of this movie mixed up with 'Knightriders' (1981), an Ed Harris vehicle about LARPers.

I do remember the brutal rape scene in this one, though.
posted by porpoise at 12:01 PM on May 18 [1 favorite]

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