If just reading the overlong and unwieldy title for Arnaud des Pallières latest film has bored you to tears, don't even bother trying to endure Age of Uprising: The Legend of Michael Kohlhaas. Pallieres' adaptation of Heinrich von Kleist's 19th century novel has all the pieces to be a busy piece of revenge entertainment: conquering hero played by the typically rugged and awesome Mads Mikkelsen; handsomely shot windswept locales, and a real-life story with elements of Robin Hood and Braveheart. Yet for all of its individual glories, the film remains a largely inert and passionless whole that not even Mikkelsen can save.
Credit goes to Pallieres for maintaining the novel's existential flavor, but without a character to connect with it all amounts to nothing but a poor man's Braveheart, minus that film's vigorous battle sequences. Even the dispute which begins Kohlhaas' vengeful quest lacks any real heat, as he's a merchant who has two prized horses confiscated by an arrogant Baron throwing his weight around. Returning to claim the horses and the servant he left to tend to them, Kohlhaas discovers the animals have been mistreated and the caretaker cruelly attacked. Kohlhaas' plead to the court for reparations are dismissed due to the Baron's influence and power. For what feels like an eternity we are treated to repeated appeals to the court, all of which fail, until Kohlhaas' lusty wife is murdered attempting to make one final plea on his behalf. Cue the crazy rage and bloody revenge, right? Well, not exactly.
While Kohlhaas does set out to cut a swath through the countryside, slaying those he believes has wrong him so terribly, it all remains oddly distant. It doesn't help that Kohlhaas' desire to get his due has just as much to do with his lost horses than for his dead wife, and the lack of real internal fire he shows over either. That passion is certainly there while she is alive, as the two can barely contain themselves sexually even when in the presence of their daughter. The sparsely written script only hints at the "ends justifying the means" struggle within Kohlhaas, depicted with tight control by the ever-stoic Mikkelsen. But the entire film is an exercise in control, so much so that it never connects on a visceral level even when called upon to do so. Battles are few and far between and show Pallieres' weakness in staging trackable action. Better are the scenes when Kohlhaas is engaged in theological debate with a heady priest (Denis Lavant) or during a tense encounter with the Princess where everything he holds dear hangs on her every word. Unfortunately, these brief moments of genuine tension and intellectual complexity are just as rare as the sword 'n armor warfare a film like this sorely needs. Soulful imagery aside, Age of Uprising: The Legend of Michael Kohlhaas tediously tramples over its own potential.