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Q: What happens when five true geniuses - a director, a composer and three actors - get together to make a movie that would really change the world? A: A disaster.
Bertolucci was never able to write good dialogs, or to tell a coherent story, or to create deep convincing characters. He always tried to palliate that with a rather pathetic mix of realistic sex and unrealistic politics. He never had any sense of rhythm, but we always forgave him that because his lengthy shots are so beautiful, and his casting so impressive. But in this film, the usual flaws are exacerbated to such an extent that it is practically unwatchable.
The story that lasts for those five bloody hours is really very simple. It's about a Good Commie Guy (Depardieu), a Bad Fasist Guy (Sutherland) and a Weak Rich Guy (de Niro). By the way, de Niro's character is in every detail a clone of the Last Emperor from another Bertolucci film: same spoiled childhood, same loneliness, same conformism, same bohemian farniente, same relationship with wife, same end as a prisoner of the people. I can think of only one other film in which so much efforts of such great actors were wasted in such a useless way, and that is "The Thin Red Line".