Sunday, July 15, 2012

Early Tom Hardy in Martin Huberty's real-life, French Foreign Legion film DESERTER

If that versatile and talented actor, Tom Hardy, looks a mite young in the apparently straight-to-DVD release DESERTER (aka Simon: An English Legionnaire), that's because he was young when this movie was made -- a full decade ago. This was only his third outing before a camera, after Band of Brothers and Black Hawk Down, but Hardy, shown below, acquits himself quite well, pretty much stealing the acting thunder from the fellow who has the leading role, Paul Fox.

TrustMovies calls this film a straight-to-DVD release, even though the IMDB says that it had a theatrical opening in the U.S. back in May of 2002, and then played the Palm Springs Film Fest later that year. This must have been a very limited release. In any case, the film has not been heard of on these shores since then and is only getting a rather major DVD and Blu-ray release now -- from Inception Media Group LLC -- due to Hardy's continuing notoriety and abilities.

Though born British, Hardy has played a number of nationalities: British, American, French. He's the latter here, and his accent is quite good most of the time. So's his acting, which maintains the high level of energy, focus and commitment that makes this performer so riveting to watch. As the duplicitous Dupont, who befriends our hero, Simon (played by Mr. Fox, above), Hardy gives a full performance that grows larger (and uglier) as the film moves on, reaching its simultaneous apotheosis and nadir in his final scene.

The story, which is based on several years in the life of Britisher Simon Murray (shown at left), who, during the 1960s, when a love affair went south, impulsively signed a five-year contract to serve in the French Foreign Legion. The film recounts much of that service, which is full of incident, camaraderie, and a little love (the hetero sort: don't expect the barely-buried homo-eroticism of Claire Denis' Beau Travail). Because the French-Algerian war is raging during this time, and the legion's home is in Algiers, we also get a pretty good dose of allegiances formed and betrayed. Our hero tries to see both sides of each situation, and his superiors in the Legion often seem surprisingly understanding.

The climax, along with the film's strongest section, involves the shock that hits not just the Legion, but the pied-noir population in Algeria and much of la belle France herself, when de Gaulle decides to toss in the towel, war-wise. This makes for some surprising behavior, leading to the separation of former friends and the mean-ing of the film's title. From this movie, as well as from other sources I consulted after viewing it, I was surprised to learn how close France came to a right-wing military take-over during this time.

If only the movie-making were of a higher caliber, Deserter might have been quite a film. The direction -- from a fellow better known for producing (this was his first and evidently only foray into directing), Martin Huberty -- is adequate but little more. While nothing here is awful, most of the movie seems a bit amateurish in its direction and screenplay. Though it is not always predictable, many of the incidents, as shown us, seem a little too "standard," particularly in the ways that these incidents are fleshed-out. Still, the film is always watchable, and if it's somewhat sanitized, it is never stupid. I must also say that the Blu-ray transfer is the best I've seen so far from Inception Media Group. This is quality in every way, with rich colors, deep blacks and as images as sharply detailed as you could desire.

Deserter, with a running time of 93 minutes, will be available on both DVD and Blu-ray and hits the streets this Tuesday, July 17, for sale and/or rental. A must-see for any Hardy boys, it might also please French Foreign Legion aficionados and history buffs.

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