Review: Redbad (2018)

Redbad (2018)

Directed by: Roel Reiné | 160 minutes | action, adventure, drama | Actors: Gijs Naber, Loes Haverkort, Lisa Smit, Britte Lagcher, Renée Soutendijk, Teun Kuilboer, Søren Malling, Huub Stapel, Peter Faber, Nienke Brinkhuis, Egbert Jan Weeber, Camilla Gotlieb, Jack Wouterse, Peter Faber, Tibo Vandenborre, Aus Greidanus , Martijn Fischer, Mark van Eeuwen, Flor Decleir, Birgit Schuurman, Pieter Embrechts, Jonathan Banks

Roel Reiné is doing well. Both in his own country and in the US, he manages to earn his living making films. The Eindhoven-born screenwriter and director broke through in 1999 with ‘The Delivery’, an action comedy starring Fedja van Huêt, which immediately earned him a Golden Calf for best director. In 2005 Reiné crossed the Atlantic for an adventure in Hollywood. After a few years of struggling, he took off as a director of action shows, usually released straight to DVD – think sequels like ‘Death Race 2’ (2010) and ‘The Scorpion King 3: Battle for Redemption’ ( 2011) – but who did bring in enough money to build their own studio at home. At a certain point Reiné felt that he was ready for the next step; he temporarily returned to the Netherlands to shoot the historical epic ‘Michiel de Ruyter’ (2015). That turned out to be a film that opened doors, because suddenly Reiné was asked to direct a number of episodes of the television series ‘Inhumans’ (a Marvel Comics project). He does not sit still in the Netherlands either, because after ‘Michiel de Ruyter’, the ambitious filmmaker threw himself into the next action spectacle around a historical hero: ‘Redbad’ (2018) or Radboud, the legendary king of the Frisians. Reportedly, a film about William of Orange will follow after this, so that Reiné has completed his national trilogy.

It is the year 700 AD. Northern Europe is divided into two worlds: above the rivers live the Frisians (also known as the ‘free people’), Saxons and Danes; south of the rivers rule the Franks, who have set themselves the goal of conquering all of Europe. They use a new weapon to subjugate the pagans (Christianity) and prey on the most important trading center of Europe (Dorestad), where the Frisian king Aldigisl (Huub Stapel) reigns. His son Redbad (Gijs Naber) doubts the pagan rituals of his people. He comes into conflict with his father when his beloved Fenne (Lisa Smit) is assigned to be sacrificed to the gods. During the sacrificial ritual, the Franks, led by the ruthless King Pepin (Jonathan Banks), invade Dorestad. The Frisians lose the city and flee to Wijnaldum. Redbad’s uncle Eibert (Derek de Lint) seizes power and accuses Redbad of the defeat and death of his brother. Tied to a raft, Redbad is pushed out to sea to die. Miraculously, however, he survives the journey and washes ashore in Denmark, where Viking king Wiglek (Søren Malling) hesitantly takes him under his wing. After Redbad helps them repel an attack from the Swedes, he marries Wiglek’s daughter Frea (Loes Haverkort). When they return to Dorestad together, they discover that Redbad’s sister Sinde (Britte Lagcher) has been married off to the cruel Karel Martel (Tibo Vandenborre), Pepijn’s son. When he sees her being forcibly converted by priest Willibrord (Jack Wouterse), he vows to free her. But he needs the help of the Frisian army, which is now led by his cousin Jurre (Teun Kuilboer). But whether the Frisians are strong enough to defeat the impressive army of the Franks…?

‘Redbad’ is a spectacular film that is not often made in the Netherlands. With a limited budget of ‘only’ seven million euros, Reiné created a series of battles complete with sword fights and beheadings, in which men and women fight (read: beech and steeds) for what they are worth. The action scenes look slick, as does the decoration of the whole, although slow motion could have been used a little less (we know that trick after two times). Reiné cleverly conceals the fact that he had just a few extra extras at his disposal than the images would have us believe. ‘Redbad’ wants to tell a lot and also takes the time to do so, because the film lasts no less than two hours and forty minutes. But there is a lot on our plate: the feeling of guilt, the exile and then the resurrection of Redbad himself, but also the internal struggle within the Frisian Empire, the war with the Franks, the forced conversion to Christianity, the at the whim of the psychopath Karel Martel who must be rescued and then there are two women who love him. The overcrowded plot is fired at the viewer like an arrow fired at the enemy; there is no time to catch your breath. For the sake of convenience, we classify it as historically far from accurate under the heading of ‘artistic freedom’; worse are the giant leaps that are made here and there in time, the flawed dialogues and the curious way in which language is used (the Frisians speak Dutch, but both the Franks and the Danes speak English, except for the religious types; Frea picks up Dutch very quickly as a Danish, and speaks without an accent).

The level of the acting varies widely. Gijs Naber carries the film with verve; he is believable as a brave warrior with a progressive outlook. Naber is almost unrecognizable with his long mane, coarse reddish beard, hollow eyes and deep furrows in the face. He manages to hit just the right note. Except for that language thing, Loes Haverkort is also fine, just like Smit and Kuilboer. Significantly less perform the experienced hands in the trade. Jack Wouterse seems to have run away from the Efteling like that, because he looks more like a troll king than priest Willibrord. Banks, star of the hit series ‘Breaking Bad’, looks dull and seems to be playing on autopilot – the same goes for Derek de Lint, by the way – and Renée Soutendijk as a herb lady sometimes makes strange jumps and is impossible to gauge. Tibo Vandenborre has the misfortune that his character is very one-dimensional – namely in and in bad – there is no credit to be had. Fortunately, the Danish actor Søren Malling is a small ray of hope as the honest Danish king who takes the stowaway Redbad under his wing.

But it is not so much the unbalanced acting that ‘Redbad’ suffers from, but the bombast and excess with which Reiné has punctuated his film. All aspects are too heavy; the packed scenario, the intense battles, the intensely swelling and constantly present music, the dialogues that nullify the effect of the images. Nuance and subtlety are hard to find and that’s a shame, because we would have loved to reward Reiné’s courage to take such a grand spectacle by the horns with a lot of stars. It is Naber with his balanced performance that keeps the film afloat to some extent. He and the slick battle scenes and ditto sets, sets and costumes finally convince ‘Redbad’ after 160 long minutes.

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