This could have been a pretty good film. I just don’t know. The advance material and the jacket suggest this is a “gripping thriller” with timely themes of terrorism and war. As soon as the film opens, it becomes immediately obvious that something entirely different is at work here. A news report suggests that a tyrant is showing his compassion and generosity when he commutes the sentence of a prisoner about to go to the guillotine. What does he commute the sentence to? Death by hanging. What a guy. I think my mood…was determined at that point. With the evident conflict, I begin to wonder just what the intent really was. Is this a satire? Do they really think this is “gripping” stuff? It’s hard to believe that the satirical nature of this script could be accidental. The entire film presents us with awkwardly comedic elements mixed with rather brutal images of death and torture. So what the heck is this film after all?
The film opens with an explanation that this undisclosed nation has been ruled by a brutal tyrant for many years. Upon the man’s suspicious death, his inept son, affectionately called Jr., takes over. The trouble is Jr. is worse than his father and is far more concerned with making bad action films than actually running the country. Campaign ads remark that you should “re-elect President for life and Things Will Be OK”. An underground revolutionary leader has been in prison for over ten years. He uses the time to write quaint words of wisdom on the walls of his cell in excrement while enticing his guard to his political beliefs. What follows is an expected coup followed by yet another brutal dictatorship. As the soldier wisely remarks, “Before the revelation it was man exploiting man; after the revelation it has reversed”. It is in this second act that the film attempts to jettison its comedic style and be the serious effort it claimed to be. More brutal images assault us at every turn, but by now it’s too late..
Ralph Fiennes and Donald Sutherland are actually quite good in their respective roles. The film’s flaws cannot be found in the acting, unless you want to talk about Lara Flynn Boyle’s cheesy role as Jr.’s wife. We never do find out what or where the country is, but it is hinted that it might exist in Africa. The title of the film refers to the old story of five blind men who approach an elephant from different perspectives. There are a lot of elephant images in the film, including a rather shocking Edison piece where he demonstrates electrocution on an elephant. I’m not sure if there’s an American political statement here, but if there is, it’s certainly lost irretrievably by the insanity of the script.
Land Of The Blind is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The print is actually pretty good. Color displays a great deal of contrast from bright to dark moments. There is a lot of odd stock footage here in various conditions. Much of it is black and white, and some of it very rough indeed. Still, this doesn’t take anything away from the presentation, but adds a documentary realism that might have served a better script quite well. There weren’t any compression or print artifacts that I could find. A bit of grain is evident, but not oppressively so.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is fine, but nothing to write home about. This film is primarily dialogue and so lives in the center for most of the picture. A 2.0 track would have sounded roughly the same. Everything is clear and mixed well. Forget your sub; the film obviously did.
A 13 minute behind the scenes feature does nothing to clear up what this picture is supposed to be. It’s interesting to hear the writer explain that he cast Sutherland so as not to tip off the viewer to an important plot point, but he does so in his explanation.
Don’t get me wrong. I love satire. Some of my favorite films are deliciously deviant dark humor affairs. Michael Caine’s A Shock To The System is one of the best of that type. What I want is for the film to make to pretensions or “trick” me into watching something I might not have been prepared for. Every description put out for this film assures us this is going to be a serious thriller. Instead we get a half-funny half-baked story about some “really bad guys”.
Special Features List
- “Anatomy of a Thriller: Behind the Scenes” featurette
- Theatrical trailer