Flesh + Blood (1985)
By: Mr Intolerance on September 5, 2009  | 
MGM (UK). Region 2, PAL. 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0, German DD 2.0, French DD 2.0, Italian DD 2.0, Spanish DD 1.0. French, Italian, Spanish, Finnish, Czech. 123 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Starring: Rutger Hauer, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Burlinson, Susan Tyrrell, Ronald Lacey, Jack Thompson
Screenplay: Gerard Soeteman, Paul Verhoeven
Country: USA
External Links
Purchase IMDB YouTube
Verhoeven's first US film, after a run of successful Dutch movies, Flesh and Blood, or as I suppose you could read it, Sex and Violence, is an odd beast indeed. It's not really a fantasy film, nor is it historical drama – it's really not one thing nor t'other, although it has elements of both, as you're about to find out. The V-man has never done anything by halves, and this film certainly stands testimony to that.

We start off with a siege. Arnolfini wants his city back, and has Martin (Rutger Hauer) and his band of mercenaries working towards it, along with Captain Hawkwood (Jack Thompson – nice to see a local boy doing good) and his troops. There's a moral ambiguity early established to this film that Verhoeven works well. Bad and good are relative concepts, and each character seems to explore that concept during the two hours running time. Arnolfini is quite happy to have his city back, but he's not happy to live up to his rapacious promises to Martin and the boys. They're having a bit too much fun with the old rape and pillage, and Arnolfini orders Captain Hawkwood to stop them from going any further. What better way than bribing them with ale, and lots of it? Hawkwood isn't happy about what he's done, and added to the guilt he feels for slicing open the head of a nun during the storming of the castle, he's generally not a very happy camper at all.

Martin and his crew (including character actor regulars Ronald Lacey, Brion James and Bruno Kirby) have holed up in a town not too far away – Martin's child is stillborn (thus increasing our sympathy with him) and a statue of St Martin is found, the only saint depicted with a sword, and Martin's patron saint – Martin seems to think he's found a new purpose in life – vengeance!

Then there's Steven (Tom Burlinson – another local boy doing well), Arnolfini's son. He's…well…he's a nerd, basically, and he's wearing a big girl's blouse. He wants to play with the big boys, but he really can't because he's just too wet. He's about to be married off (it's an arranged marriage, obviously) to the cunning, cruel and mean Agnes (Leigh), who is a total cunt, don't you know. She's the most morally dubious character in the whole film, changing sides more often than a schoolyard rugby team. She makes her maid Kathleen have sex with her soldier boyfriend, just so she can see how it's done, coldly and clinically. Steven and Agnes' first meeting is not especially successful, to put it mildly, but maybe that's just the mandrake.

Agnes is kidnapped by Martin, right under the very noses of Steven and Arnolfini. What a cheek! At the same time we see Hawkwood, farming on the place he won for selling Martin and the boys out in the first place, with his nun-friend. Hawkwood is forced out of retirement, and Agnes is found, having hidden herself in the wagon she was taken in, although obviously, not too well. She gets gang-raped, although her initial reaction to it is as ambiguous as Susan George's in Straw Dogs. Once Martin gets up in them guts, it's really quite uncertain as to how much she finds it an unpleasurable situation. I'm sorry if that reads crassly, but it's the god's honest truth. She seems to be finding the whole thing a little bit too much fun, as indeed are the audience, even more to our own dismay. And in the end, she makes Rutger her bitch. I told you she was a total cunt.

Martin and co break into a castle, which Agnes is more than complicit in, and which they occupy having either slaughtered or driven out the original occupants. Verhoeven doesn't skimp on the nasty, as you know, and this is no different. His take on the medieval world is every bit as nasty as RoboCop, Starship Troopers, or Total Recall. Vicious, bloody and mean-spirited, to every last blood-drenched second.

"A sin is not a sin if no-one sees it." This would appear to be the litany Agnes lives by. Slight addendum: or knows it. Martin and Agnes are getting rather cosy, much to his girlfriend's chagrin, and Agnes is obviously living by the dictum of Machiavelli: do watcha gotta do to be top dawg. Okay, he said it more classy and in Italian, but you know what I mean. And Agnes is following that lesson 100% of the way, the beetle-browed little skank.

Hawkwood and Steven find Martin's castle (and by the way, the plague's in town), and Agnes' mettle is put to the test – is she going to be faithful to her intended, or keep hanging out with Martin and his criminal buddies? Hawkwood's contracted the Plague, which isn't good news for him, and his soldiers are besieging Martin's castle, Steven being responsible for building a siege engine to take Rutger down. Battle scene ensues, and Verhoeven doesn't let us down – while it's not the mince-meat making of the ED-209, we still get lashings of the red, red krovvy.

Steven tries to break into the castle, without much success, and Agnes shows her cunt-like tendencies yet again. Jennifer Jason Leigh is good like that. He's reduced to a sad state and treated like a dog. That's not good to begin with. And considering that Hawkwood's flinging chunks of plague infested dog meat into Martin's castle, things are looking increasingly grim for the inmates. – worse yet when Steven throws some of that dog meat into the well Martin's company drink from. Agnes is fully aware of what he's done, and doesn't warn the others, yet oddly enough, saves Martin. The Plague has certainly hit town, and it's time for Martin's folks to bugger off, and look after their own stakes. Stupidly, they don't. They do however throw Martin in the well, after their own brand of poetic justice.

Arnolfini turns up to bolster Hawkwood's meagre forces, and things become even more desperate for the castle inmates – more desperate than the Plague? Yes, I really should have thought about that.... Watching Agnes swap loyalties even more quickly than before is a thing of beauty. She really is a piece of work. She's not doing much for the cause of feminism, let me tell you. This is the final act of the movie, so you're going to have to watch out for yourself to see what befalls our various heroes, but not everything works out the way you might think – Verhoeven's a smarter director than that.

Y'know, one thing always comes back to me when I watch this film – and that is, how can a movie which cost so much, look so cheap? Seriously, this is meant to be a saucy, rollicking epic adventure film set in the days of yore, and it looks like it had a budget of about a buck 89. There's some good gore scenes (well, it is a Verhoeven film), some memorable set pieces, but the costumes look like they came from an amateur dramatics company's Shakespeare wardrobe. If it weren't for the performances (Leigh's, especially) this would have fallen tremendously flat on its face.

As the credits roll, I have only one question – who the fuck would want to be credited in a film as "Sturdy Woman"?
The visuals are totally crystal, which is lucky, because the dialogue is diabolical, so it better have something to recommend it…
Well there's pretty monumental Basil Poledouris score up for grabs, for one. Otherwise, a good solid Surround audio track.
Extra Features
Nada. There's bugger all on display – "Interactive menus and Chapter Selections" are the best you get in terms of extras here.
The Verdict
Not an entirely satisfying film, but worth a watch for those who like a bit of sword-play. Not Verhoeven's best film – as a matter of fact, this is the one I like the least, of his US films.
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score

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