Saturday, 5 February 2011

Paul Verhoeven Film Restrospective - Soldier Of Orange

Paul Verhoeven's forth film reunites him once again with Rutger Hauer for what may very well be his best. Telling the story of 6 Dutch University graduates during the war, it mainly focuses on Erik Lanshof (Hauer) as he and Guus LeJeune (Jeroen Krabbé) escape to England from the German occupied Holland.

The film is in two halves, with an intermission at the midway point. The first half telling the story of life in Holland as the Germans take control, showing how the lives of the 6 friends go in different directions during the war. The second half tells how Hauer and Krabbé help the British trick the German's into thinking D-Day will occur in Holland instead of France.
Hauer is once again excellent in a role far removed from that of his previous two Verhoeven films, showing his underrated versatility as an actor that was lost once he moved to Hollywood and got stuck playing the bad guys. Here, he plays a student who gets caught up in the war and becomes a hero. Jeroen Krabbé is also excellent in a role far removed from his typical Hollywood villain, as the equally heroic Guus. After this film, Krabbé would team up with Verhoeven again on his next 2 films.

This is Verhoeven's first film without usual cinematographer, Jan De Bont, which probably explains why it looks so much better than his previous films. Where the lack of a huge Hollywood budget made Keetje Tippel look underwhelming in places, here, the film looks professional and expensive. Indeed, it was the most expensive Dutch film ever made at that time, but even then, it's budget was tiny compared to American productions. The look of this film is amazing, especially during it's climatic scenes, with a tuxedo clad Hauer, running across the beach as bombs go off around him. It's a remarkable image, and one that prompted Spielberg into persuading Verhoeven to move to Hollywood a few years later.

One thing that did surprise me was the subtlety from Paul Verhoeven. This being a Verhoeven film, he didn't shy away from showing a bucket of shit that Hauer hides a film in, or having another character on the toilet as he is blown up by a grenade, but even then, he's not as gratuitous as usual. There's less nudity than you'd expect from a Verhoeven film, although it's not gone entirely. The lovely Susan Penhaligon doesn't bother covering herself when she lies in bed with Krabbe as he and Hauer decide on who should go on a dangerous mission. That being said, Verhoeven's unsubtle instincts do allow him to show soldiers with missing limbs just after a bomb drops, decades before Spielberg started doing the same thing in Saving Private Ryan.

There is a lot to recommend this film, including a superb sequence where Hauer has been given a British Navy Uniform to wear as it is almost identical to a German one. He then walks amongst a large group of German soldiers, confidently saluting without drawing suspicion. It is a scene that is both funny and tense as you fear for him getting caught.

IMDB currently gives Soldier Of Orange an impressive 7.9 although I think it deserves slightly higher.

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