Take a Drink: “Dutch Nazis… I hate Dutch Nazis”
Take a Drink: for Verhoeven’s weird sexual situations
Pour One Out: for each of the Friends in the photo who get killed, and Take a Shot: for each of the survivors
By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Two Beers) –
A group of friends attending university in the Netherlands during the late 1930s find themselves swept up in the confusion and conflict of occupation when the German army invades. Erik, Guus, Jan, Alex, along with Robby and his lover Esther, all follow different directions.
Some, such as Erik (Rutger Hauer) and Guus join the resistance, eventually crossing the English channel to train for special operations under British command. Others join up with the Germans as collaborators, and still others are caught up in-between, such as Jan, who is Jewish. As the war wears on, their experiences mark the high and low points of their generation’s collective experience.
There are some who labor under the misapprehension that Paul Verhoeven is a genre filmmaker. Certainly, his work in Sci-Fi and Erotic Thrillers have a kind of lurid nature to them which may turn of some viewers. Verhoeven’s filmmaking tends to highlight tonal extremes, encouraging highly theatrical performances and over-the-top cinematography. In many ways, this style is reminiscent of the Tabloid Filmmaking style of filmmakers like Samuel Fuller, using these extremes satirically as a form of social commentary.
These eccentricities are present in Soldier of Orange, but owing to the film’s historical setting and subject matter, Verhoeven treats it with a more serious tone. This benefits the story greatly, and Verhoeven lets just enough of his signature style through to give the movie a distinctive feel. Cinematographer Jost Vacano emphasizes the setting of the film as past events, almost documentary-like at times, with numerous scenes capturing just the perspective of a few individuals in the midst of a deluge of humanity.
Rutger Hauer’s performance is one of his best; Erik is not only challenged emotionally due to the war, but also because his country has split loyalties all over the place, rendering him unable to fully trust anyone, even those “on his side”.
The film is paced brilliantly, starting off slowly, introducing the characters and the setting. But as soon as the Germans attack, each scene moves the story along swiftly. When Erik reaches England, the movie slows again to focus on showing his character’s transition from civilian to solider. This feels like a much-needed respite, particularly as the film amps up going into the third act. Soldier of Orange clocks in at 2 and a half hours in length, and takes full advantage of every minute.
The film’s only real flaw is in the development of secondary characters. It would have upped the film’s stakes to provide an empathetic eye towards even the collaborators, never condoning their actions, but showing how easy it would be to follow. The film more or less ignores these character’s personal struggles in favor of focusing principally on Erik, and while his character is undoubtedly the character who follows the “righteous” path, the film seems to set the audience up for more of an ensemble project.
Paul Verhoeven’s epic is a moving tribute to the people of the Netherlands and their experiences during WWII, as well as a rousing adventure story.