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Alatriste...one killer flick (1 Viewer)

Linton Robinson

Senior Member
I just saw the DVD or a really great film called "Alatriste". I have no idea if it played in theaters in the US or is in DVD release there. My DVD was in in Spanish with Portuguese subtitles.

For people who like great old rattlin' films that still hold up to modern expectations of acting, characterization and scripting, this thing is quite a find. Apparently the most expensive Spanish film ever made, it spares no production values, but doesn't lavish castles and battle extras on us either: it's strength is in its toughness and drama.

It has an excellent cast, mostly of Spanish actors...top flight in Europe, not known in the US. And Viggo Mortensen in the title role. And if you thought he swashedbuckles and gutchecked in LOTR, check him out in this one: Alatriste makes Strider look like a schoolboy. And more lives than a cat. Mortensen, it turns out, not only speaks perfect Spanish, but 4-5 other languages. In addition to being a talented poet, painter, and jazz musician. Not that any of that matters when he's coming over the gunnels with a knife in his teeth or lunging in a lost cost while spitting up blood.

There are plenty of cloaks and daggers in this sucker. It's set in the Spanish Inquistion, who make the whole Richeliew thing a picnic by comparison. And the court is as corrupt as any ever. All backdrop to the eddy of treachery and abstract virulence that swirls around the life of a remarkable soldier and the boy he swore to raise and protect.

In fact, betrayal could be the main them of this thing. Almost everybody in it gets sold out in manner most foul. Noble deeds are rewarded with backstabbing, metaphorical and literal. Courageous love gets trampled into the sewer. And they soldier on while the poets gets jailed, the kid sent to the galleys, the women taken and debased, friends turned against friends then murdered for it.

There are two powerful love stories here: Alatriste for an actress and the kid for a future Grandee of Spain. Both go to shit at the hands of the same man. Naturally somebody whose live they saved and fortune they preserved at the cost of their own blood and honor. It's love of the most guarded, dare not even touch, foiled at the last minute, wept over too late kind, mostly. Jerking tears and gut with the same deft hand. Deft, but artless. There are not pretentions about this script. Even though it contains literal poetry, a night at the theater, courtly language by dissembling villains.

It's one of those films whose measure is that it just keeps going on and on. You get caught up and keep moving on to different levels and scenarios. Which brings up a point that occurred to me halfway through: it is NOT based on the popular "three act/pyramid climax" model. It moves from one set-up to another like Barry Lyndon or The Three Musketeers or the great picaresque novels.

The comparison to Musketeers is an apt one, but it could also be measured by several films that define this genre. By "Three Musketeers" I mean the really great 1973 two-parter with George MacDonald Frazier screenplay and the brooding Oliver Reed. It's definitely in the "down and dirty" mode that film established for sword fights: no nice clashing foils and lace in this baby. You're down in the mud, fighting dirty and choking on your own vomit while getting sold down the river. And Morteson does it with every bit the grim irony Reed brought to Porthos.

There are moments reminiscent of The Ten Commandments: not just the galley sequence, but also the scene in the "Hospital for Syphilitics", as good a living end as the leper colony. And handled without the bathos but drenched in a truly moving emotional state.

There is a battle to take a ship that would stand up with any pirate movie ever, a battle in the fog and rain that Ridley Scott would die for, drop-dead battlefield cynicism that show up writers like Tarantino to be talented children.

There is not idea of "happy ending" here. Everybody you care about comes to a shitty, frustrating end. But there it is: "Death is just the paperwork", like a character says. You see it coming, so you stand up straight, hold your wounds together and try to lift your sword one more time.

This is an action film for grownups, a beautiful period film for realists, a romance for the "back to the wall, laughing chance" devotees...a good old time swashbuckler for our own times and sensibilities.