Monday, 16 May 2011

AGE OF HEROES: Assault On Familiar Territory

Is Sean Bean our era's Jack Hawkins? If that thought has ever occurred to you, then he is a perfect fit for Age Of Heroes, a well-crafted little war film which manages to lifts parts of virtually every familiar bank-holiday boys-own war movie of the past three generations, including but not limited to The Guns Of Navarone, The Eagle Has Landed, and The Dirty Dozen. Of course, because this is austerity Britain, we are limited to only eight heroes, but that's the price you don't pay. Sadly, there is very little that's new included in the mix, and what little there is doesn't really improve the movie, but if you can suspend your need for originality, Age Of Heroes is well-made and reasonably entertaining. But really, even the fil's poster is a compendium of throwback!

Supposedly this is the true-life story of 30 Commando during WWII, as created by Ian Fleming in his pre-James Bond days. As played by James D'Arcy, Fleming's role appears less to create the unit than to emphasise the class distinctions between the men in it (and indeed, within it) and the war's plotters. Nothing wrong with that, especially when Fleming comes out on the wrong side. There's a little bit of romance hinted at, and I'm not sure why unless it's to persuade us that Fleming isn't all Bullingdon Club, but otherwise he does serve another purpose, which is to explain everything to death, in case the 'intricacy' of the story is too much for you. Fleming demands an eight-man team, which is interesting because the eighth man, as played by Danny Dyer, is someone who's not supposed to be there, but persuades Bean, as Captain Jones, to let him in the unit.

The mission is to capture German radar technology in Norway, thus the cast is enhanced by both a 'Norwegian Yank' and a beautiful Norwegian Norwegian underground fighter. The film follows the usual format: put the unit together, bond (or James Bond) during training, take on the mission, and get away, and it has all the usual twists and turns, none of which would be hard for Ray Charles to see coming. Bean, for example, has been talked into the 'one last mission' which virtually assures he will not return; his wife is having a baby in the meantime, as if the odds weren't already stacked against him in movie terms. Why they all carry American Thompsons is another query I'd like answered; Fleming wants them to fight like 'red indians' not Chicago mobsters.

The oddest thing about the film is the enemy. The Germans seem oddly unaware of what the potential target might be; they are too busy committing atrocities in the Norwegian mountains, and filming them for the WWII equivalent of You Tube. This film-within-a-film technique might be an attempt to position Age Of Heroes for Sundance, particularly as the Germans are equating the Norwegians with terrorists. The German commander for some reason doesn't dress in mountain gear, and Askel Hennie tries to look like William Forsythe at his most demented, both violations of movie military procedure. And what's weirdest is that when he holds a gun to one of the Brits, Sean Bean doesn't shoot him, but shoots his comrade.

No, that isn't weirdest. Bean and his sarge make a stand to allow Dyer, the woman, and the radar to make a getaway, but we never see the result. Dyer's escape seems predordained; if Fleming is the perennial upper class, Bean the doomed officer class, Dyer is the modern football hooligan turned respectable hero, the Daniel Craig as James Bond 21st century Brit. In dramatic terms I suppose we can live with that ambiguity, but for film sticking so close to conventions, we expect to at least see his fight, if not his heroic death (or potential escape for Age Of More Heroes). As I said, it's frustrating that a film made so well, its action handled so deftly by director Adrian Vitoria, has so little new to say. Jack Hawkins might have something to say about that.

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