Hugh Hudson’s Revolution (1985) was considered a resounding flop by critics on release, with only a handful of film scholars making a case in defence of the flawed project. With a new Director’s Cut, the BFI have provided some fantastic background information detailing the story of the film’s production, and highlighting potential reasons why Revolution had been doomed from the moment camera’s started to roll. Illness on set, £250,000 cameras falling off cliffs, and a whip-cracking push to open during the New York and LA week-long screening windows, all contributed to an inevitable failure.
Revolution follows the fortunes of single father Tom Dobb (Pacino) as he fights to protect Ned (Sid Owen), his only son, against the violent course of history. Dobb doesn’t want this to be their life; he doesn’t want his son to fight a war that ‘isn’t theirs to fight’. He wants to go about his business, trade and take care of his only remaining family member. This struggle mounts as Ned becomes impassioned by the cause and is embroiled by its fight, and as Ned’s passion grows, Dobb has to make a decision to look after the only thing he values in his life.
Regardless of the directorial revamps and its additional voice-overs, one vital problem with Revolution remains: its awkward choice of location. The decision to make, what Michael Brooke refers to in his BFI notes, as a ‘star-studded American Revolutionary epic’ in King’s Lynn, England, in an attempt to portray New York in an old world and antiquarian fashion is bothersome. Added to that is a weak script, with Pacino’s illiterate American immigrant, Dobb, coming across as horribly awkward and false.
However, not all blame should be attributed to script and location though, as Pacino, widely regarded as one of the finest actors of our times, is not at his finest, as if he is somewhat outside of his comfort zone. He his consistently outshone by Owen who plays his son Ned, and the passionate performance of Nastassja Kinski, as the alluring love interest, Daisy, whose facial expressions and explicit emotions are oddly reminiscent of the more contemporary exploits of Natalie Portman.
It really is a shame that such a remarkably flawed choice of location was made for much of the film’s shooting, because Revolution does at times offer some fantastic mise-en-scene, that helps to portray the bloody and vile reality of the war of American Independence in a wholly overt manner, without having to over-egg the gore and bloodshed.
If nothing else, this BFI rerelease does offer some interesting special features, with an enlightening discussion between Pacino and Hudson regarding their vision for the film. In addition, the interview with Hudson himself offers a unique opportunity to see some of the pre-production materials, including some fantastic stills by David Bailey and Don McCullin.