Produced in Europe with American money, Paul Verhoeven himself described his first English language film as the most difficult of his career, and to date, it was also his biggest flop financially. Flesh+Blood is rather an atypical work for the director, ostensibly eschewing the social and psychological explorations of most of his other work, and created under an environment of compromise, with the US studio that was backing it interfering with the script’s major themes. Ultimately, it’s something of a failure, but a fascinating - and typically for Verhoeven, never less than thoroughly entertaining - one that the terrific value-added-material included on this Blu-ray release from Eureka addresses head-on.
Long-time collaborator Rutger Hauer - who came to the film with his own compromises in mind and ended up never working with Verhoeven again - plays Martin, part of a band of mercenaries engaged in 1501 by real-life English soldier-for-hire Hawkwood (Thompson) to liberate a city owned by Italian ruler Arnolfini (Hilbeck); once the stronghold is won Arnolfini betrays the outfit, robbing them of their spoils and banishing them from the town. When, during an ambush, Martin and his team unwittingly kidnap Agnes (Leigh), Arnolfini’s son Steven’s (Burlinson) intended bride, a struggle arises between the wealthy landowner and the soldiers of fortune, destroying any wishes they might have had to retire on their plunder.
Widely regarded as the most grim and ‘realistic’ depiction of Europe during the Late Middle Ages ever committed to screen, Flesh+Blood hasn’t lost any of its gruesome power; the violence and bloodletting might seem a touch tame by today’s standards, but the portrayal of plague and the brutality and brevity of life have never been repeated quite so graphically nor so casually; the infamous rape sequence is still just as disturbing - and just as important for the characters - as it ever was. This is Verhoeven being just as cynical about humanity, politics and particularly in this case religion, as he would go on to be in RoboCop or Starship Troopers.
Many of the director’s other predilections come to the fore, despite the studio’s suggestion that Verhoeven concentrate on the love triangle between Martin, Steven and Agnes, and it’s interesting to note his gender-liberal politics - common throughout his work - hidden beneath the brusquely masculine exterior; Agnes is no fool for anyone, and ultimately it is she who resolves the narrative.
Bringing together the director’s commentary and Basil Poledouris interview from the previous DVD issue, as well as a variety of interviews with Hauer, Verhoeven and co-writer Gerard Souteman alongside an excellent career-spanning French documentary on Verhoeven, and marred only by some grain and low contrast issues early in the film, this is an essential purchase both for Verhoeven fans and students of cinema in general.
Extras: trailer, director’s commentary, Paul Verhoeven in the Flesh documentary, interviews with the director, writer, composer and star.
FLESH+BLOOD (1985) / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: PAUL VERHOEVEN / SCREENPLAY: GERARD SOETEMAN, PAUL VERHOEVEN / STARRING: RUTGER HAUER, JENNIFER JASON LEIGH, TOM BURLINSON, RONALD LACEY, SUSAN TYRRELL, JACK THOMPSON, FERNANDO HILBECK, BRION JAMES, BRUNO KIRBY / RELEASE DATE: AUGUST 6TH