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Yojimbo's Movie Reviews (2315)

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Henry V (1989) 
"Henry V" by Yojimbo
3/4 stars

Kenneth Branagh's adaptation of Shakespeare's play was his directorial debut and at the time many balked at the very idea that this young whipper snapper could dare to get in the ring with Laurence Olivier and his then definitive version. This film is a completely different proposition however, choosing to use the cinematic medium to great effect to breathe gritty, believable life into the characters and story. He is of course backed up by probably the finest assemblance of Shakespearian talent whose pedigree shines through in a faultless collection of performances, from the arrogance and politicking of the nobles to the earthy pathos of the common soldier. Even the uninitiated who can be intimidated by the seemingly inpenetrable prose should be able to follow the plot because of the clever use of performance and realism to convey the meaning of the florid dialogue, but I must admit from time to time I wished I had some Cliff notes to aid my understanding of the nuances. The battle scenes are recreated in a way obviously influenced by John Boorman's Excalibur, all sweat and blood and filth, and to echo the modern climate offers a more human portrayal of bloodshed on such an epic scale. The highlights are of course all provided by Branagh's excellent and naturalistic interpretation of Henry (although Paul Scofield's subtle performance as the melancholy King of France is near its equal), most notably his pre-battle speeches which inspire without the clodhopping patriotic manipulation you have seen in everything from Braveheart to Independence Day. His inexperience behind the camera tells occasionally as he gets a little slo-mo happy and the battle is a little confusing, but as a whole it's a great achievement.


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