When Variety reviewed Hugh Hudson’s “Revolution” on Dec. 12, 1985, Jagr. said the film was “a little like visiting a museum — it looks good without really being alive,” and predicted that “victory at the box office seems unlikely.”
The latter assessment turned out to be correct, as the Warner Bros. release (which Hudson claimed had been rushed into cinemas to provide an immediate surge of income to cash-strapped Goldcrest Prods.) was widely panned by critics and shunned by the public. But 24 years later, the helmer has retooled the pic to more closely adhere to his original vision, trimming the running time — now 110 minutes, down from the original 125 minutes — and adding a full, newly recorded voiceover by Al Pacino. The results generally improve the movie, now titled “Revolution Revisited,” but numerous problems are insurmountable. DVDs hit stores at the end of May, while fest play kicked off June 20 at the Taormina Film Festival.
Most of the changes are not drastic: A few sequences have been shortened, and Dave King’s one scene, as Nastassja Kinski’s father, has been eliminated. More importantly, the deeply unsatisfactory finale — in which Pacino’s character, Tom Dobb, absurdly discovers Kinski alive and well — has been cut, now ending the film on a superior note of uncertainty.
The new voiceover fills in Dobb’s history and offers more direct insight into his interior state, though his tacked-on declaration of identification with black slaves, since he was once an indentured servant, reeks of end-of-century political correctness. While some of the additional information is helpful, the interior monologue often merely repeats what should be obvious in the visuals, and can feel almost apologetic in tone, like a student defending a harshly graded paper to his professor.
Bernard Lutic’s handheld camerawork, however, holds up extremely well. And still notable is the way Hudson captures the chaos of the early days of the American Revolution, legitimately showing it as the visual and spiritual precursor to the much more frequently depicted French Revolution. As Variety opined, while the central story “is full of holes, the larger canvas is staged beautifully and realized, due in good part to Assheton Gorton’s production design.” The Battle of Yorktown is impressively shot, and John Corigliano’s majestic music gives the movie an air of grandeur.
Unfortunately, the new cut cannot hide the still problematic casting, much remarked on at the time: Pacino’s accent remains unplaceable, while Kinski’s vocal patterns are completely different from those of her character’s mother (Joan Plowright) and sisters.
The British characters, notably those played by Donald Sutherland, Richard O’Brien and Paul Brooke, are all pederasts, twits or both, and the script still strains credulity by having Kinski’s character more than once appear at the right place, at the right time. Hudson’s refusal to turn the War of Independence into a rousing celebratory affair makes “Revolution” one of the more interesting films to directly deal with the topic, but even this new version can’t hide flaws too embedded in the script to disguise.
Related: Variety’s original 1985 review of “Revolution.”