Major Benson Winifred Payne is being discharged from the Marines. Payne is a killin' machine, but the wars of the world are no longer fought on the battlefield. A career Marine, he has no ... See full summary »
Methinks the vicious slams against this film, made by hardcore fans of source author Andrzej Sapkowski, are a bit out of line. Sapkowski's books, very popular in Poland, are not available in English yet (a UK edition comes out in 2007), and I have not read them, so I watched the film with no expectations. There is some excellent film-making here, an unusual atmosphere (helped by a fine music score and great scenery), and, most memorable, the magnetic performance of Michal Zebrowski in the lead. In WITH FIRE AND SWORD, Zebrowski seemed merely ornamental (he is very good-looking); here, he truly claims the role of the lonely warrior moving through a broken world determined to find a higher moral code.
Comparison with Tolkien is largely misplaced, although this fantasy also clearly grows out of the catastrophes of the 20th century. In HEXER, we enter a world of vicious power struggles and atrocities. When a ruthless band resembling Teutonic Knights wipes out a sacred retreat of women, you can't help but think of the Nazi atrocities in Poland. The content also draws on older Polish history, such as the 17th century practice of impaling captives; you won't find that in Tolkien! The resonance of this exotic background and the seriousness of these themes give the film a welcome sense of gravitas that results in some haunting images and moments.
Regarding special effects, I grew up in the 1960s on Ray Harryhausen claymation, and while I appreciate the tremendous advances in FX, they don't make or break a film for me. The special effects here are certainly not Hollywood state of the art, but nor are they cheesy; they are respectable.
The film's biggest weakness seems to stem from the fact that a longer version appeared as a TV series in Poland, and this feature release was edited from that. Indeed, some developments seem too rushed and some characters pop up very abruptly; the story is not unintelligible, but does require a bit of concentration from the viewer. I would love to see the longer, more fleshed-out version on DVD someday.
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