As the films of Hugh Hudson get more ambitious, they become duller and more long-winded, too. In this sense, ``Revolution'' is the culmination of his career to date. I take no pleasure in trouncing this self-proclaimed ``American epic,'' which features a reverently photographed Al Pacino acting his head off in various Revolutionary War settings. For one thing, Hudson means well and deserves a nod of approval for trying to keep respectable ``Masterpiece Theatre''-type fare alive on the wide screen. For another, I'm still smarting from the mail I got after calling his ``Chariots of Fire'' only a mild success. Many of my readers found it sublime and never forgave
me for being insufficiently bowled over by it.
Still, my skepticism about Hudson's approach grew after seeing ``Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes,'' which was pretentious from the title on. And the new ``Revolution'' only deepens my dismay. Rarely has a film poured so much energy into generating fiery emotions, yet remained so icy cold in its effect.
Exhibit A is a harrowing scene involving Tom Dobb, the hero, and Ned, his young son. Ned has been beaten and crippled by a sadistic British officer (Donald Sutherland) after being shanghaied into service. Upon rescuing the boy, Tom brings him to some Indian friends, who perform a kind of ceremonial surgery on his feet. The scene is filmed mostly in one shot of unusual length, focusing on the faces of the agonized boy and his anguished dad. Ned struggles to bear up to his ordeal while Tom tries desperate ly to soothe and comfort the son he dearly loves.
This should have made for an overwhelmingly dramatic scene. Yet, sucker though I am for tales of family strength in the face of adversity, I found myself pretty much unmoved. With its self-conscious camera work and marathon performances, the episode seemed more a calculated stunt than an outbreak of truly felt emotion. With everyone working so hard, what came across most was how hard everyone was working. The result was more impressive to the eye than expressive of the heart. And art without heart is ra rely worth the bother.
So it goes through the two hours or so that ``Revolution'' takes to unfold its ragged yarn. In another of his oddly narcissistic performances, Pacino is only fitfully convincing as Tom, who starts as a loner with no loyalties and winds up an American patriot with all the correct trappings: a brash mouth to show he's a rebel, a shy demeanor to show he's sincere, and -- late in the picture -- a costume that would have done any '60s hippie proud, to show he's a nature boy who loves the Iroquois as much as he hates the Redcoats.
The rest of the cast fares worse. As the nasty British sergeant, Donald Sutherland has little to do but swagger. As a rich young woman who joins the rebels, Nastassja Kinski falls in love with Tom Dobb at first blink, and proceeds to utter lines like ``You risked your life! You fought for your cause!'' with the most lascivious purr I've heard all year. The minor characters tend to be hackneyed stereotypes, too many of them offensively foppish or gratuitously swishy.
``Revolution'' has been dazzlingly shot by cinematographer Bernard Lutic in a process called System 35, but so much visual grandeur seems more embarrassing than engaging when the dramatic element is such a mess. John Corigliano composed the garden-variety musical score and Robert Dillon wrote the episodic screenplay.
The film is rated PG, which seems rather mild given the footage of battlefield carnage and primitive surgery.