Directed by: Duane Clark | 173 minutes | action, thriller, crime | Actors: Stephen Dorff, Caterina Murino, Greg Bryk, Stephen McHattie, Lucinda Davis, Jonathan Higgins, Ted Atherton, John Bourgeois, Jessalyn Gilsig, Mimi Kuzyk, Cedric Smith, Barbara Gordon, Val Kilmer, Luke Vitale, Gouchy Boy, Todd Sandomirsky, Andrew Jackson, Dan Duran, Julian Richings, Hrant Alianak, Ronn Sarosiak, Nigel Shawn Williams, Jacqueline Pillon, Peter James Haworth, Scott Wickware
“XIII: The Conspiracy” is a French Canadian TV movie that originally aired on French television in two parts but has been released internationally on DVD as a feature film. The story is broadly based on the Belgian comic series “XIII”, written by Jean Van Hamme (known for “Thorgal” and “Largo Winch”, among others) and illustrated by William Vance.
In isolation, “XIII: The Conspiracy” is by no means an uninteresting crime film, with a good alternation between action and intrigue. For those unfamiliar with the original comic series – and there are probably quite a lot of them – this is an entertaining Bourne-style film, both cinematic and content. (It is interesting to note that Van Hamme based his “XIII” series on the Bourne books by Robert Ludlum. And “XIII: The Conspiracy” is in turn clearly inspired by the Bourne films.)
For those who do know the comics, however, the film adaptation is almost certainly a disappointment. The series is far too rich to just be crammed into three hours of film. She certainly has cinematic potential, but more for a television series, or a series of movies. The story, which spreads over nineteen strips in total, has been shortened here in such a way that the essence is more or less preserved, but the characteristic of the strips disappears completely. The characters flatten out enormously, especially the main character, XIII, who is assigned two identities in the film, and no fewer than twelve in the comics. The film is only set on American soil, although half of the comics are set in Central and South America. The core of the story – a conspiracy against the president by a totalitarian society that establishes his hierarchy by means of tattooed Roman numerals – remains, but is modified or simplified on many points. Also striking is the fact that the story of the comics is set in the eighties, but it was transposed to this time before the film. This, of course, also influences certain plots, such as the use of computers and the Internet in the search for the conspirators and the context of terrorism instead of the Cold War. In the movie, the murdered president is also a woman – a hint to Hilary Clinton running for president in 2008? – and a man in the comics.
But the biggest adjustment from the comics, and something that fans can understandably have the hardest time with, is in the casting. No character – with the exception of General Carrington – physically resembles the characters from the comics. This may be forgivable for the side characters, but Stephen Dorff’s choice as XIII is actually quite absurd. What is immediately noticeable about XIII in the comics is that he is tall and charming – the James Bond type actually – something that is not exactly the case with Dorff. It is strange to say the least that one of the two awards for which the film was nominated was like a casting award.
But it is obviously unfair to view the film as an adaptation only. The action scenes, which mainly occur in the second part of the film, are simple but convincing and there is fun stunt work involved. In these scenes it also becomes clear that “XIII” appeared as a game before; especially the parts in abandoned buildings are somewhat reminiscent of a computer game. Also settings, props and camera work are certainly not bad, taking into account the rather low budget of the film. The acting, on the other hand, could be better. The most famous names in this film, Stephen Dorff and Val Kilmer, play very forced and with little depth. The other actors – except perhaps Caterina Murino, who plays the character Sam made up for the film – also seem very distant, which also makes the whole film a bit more distant. Although the cast consists of lesser known (and therefore perhaps less good) actors besides Dorff and Kilmer, the fault here probably lies with the director, Duane Clark, a relative unknown who collaborated on “CSI: Miami” and “CSI: NY ”.
As a comic strip adaptation, “XIII: The Conspiracy” is plainly weak, but as an action film or crime thriller the film scores better. He does not miss his goal for a well-filled evening of excitement, but fans of the comic series should think twice before watching, or forget the comics for a while. Anyway, it’s definitely not a movie that will stay with you for very long, Of course that is not always necessary.