First-time writer-director Robert Edwards is nothing if not ambitious, attempting to encapsulate the history of totalitarian oppression and misguided revolutionary zeal into a broad, blunt, black comedy. It begins in the middle, as B&W newsreel footage establishes the reign of brutal dictator Maximilian Bonaventure and his deranged son, Maximillian II (Tom Hollander) — known to all as "Junior" — while pawn of history Joseph Sloan (Ralph Fiennes) sits in a cell writing the story of his radicalization. Five years earlier, Joe had been a guard at R-28, a notorious prison located in an unnamed police state at some indeterminate point in history. Junior and his viciously Machiavellian wife, former starlet Josephine Delacroix (Lara Flynn Boyle), disport themselves in a palace whose vulgarity surpasses the high standards set by African despots. It's staffed by servants in 18th-century livery and gold-leafed within an inch of its life, while the common folk scratch out meager livings and watch their tongues — Big Brother is always watching. Government posts go to show-business toadies appointed by the movie-mad Junior (shades of North Korea's Kim Jong-il), who fancies himself a visionary filmmaker and leaves affairs of state to Josephine. As Joe rises through the ranks of Junior's paramilitary security force, he also gradually falls under the spell of political prisoner John M. Thorne (Donald Sutherland), a playwright-turned-guerrilla leader of the Citizens for Justice and Democracy, who's spent years in cruel solitary confinement and is reduced to scrawling revolutionary slogans on the walls in excrement. Joe eventually helps Thorne stage a coup d'etat, only to see his mentor become a tyrant whose regime forces women into burqas, pollutes the language with Newspeak and ships dissenters (including Joe, who refuses on principle to sign a loyalty oath) off to vicious re-education camps. All of this rolls the grotesque excesses of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge, the Rwandan genocides, the Third Reich, the French Revolution, Stalinist Russia and Idi Amin's Uganda into one. Deeply indebted to George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm, Edwards' strident, bombastic parable is laced with catchphrases designed to evoke three centuries'-worth of cynical spin, from "hearts and minds" to "14 Thermidor." But for all its chichi retro-future production design and heavy-handed symbolism, including a recurring elephant motif (as in the parable of the blind men) and an homage to Jean-Louis David's "Death of Marat," it’s a grab bag that achieves the nightmarish despair of Terry Gilliam's bleak, bitterly dystopian BRAZIL (1985) or, for that matter, the 1954 BBC production of 1984.
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- Released: 2006
- Rating: R
- Review: First-time writer-director Robert Edwards is nothing if not ambitious, attempting to encapsulate the history of totalitarian oppression and misguided revolutionary zeal into a broad, blunt, black comedy. It begins in the middle, as B&W newsreel footage est… (more)