In “Children of Glory,” the quelled 1956 Hungarian Revolution against Soviet-led Communist rule — and subsequent Magyar Olympic water polo victory over the Russkies in Melbourne — is given the widescreen, high-concept Hollywood treatment by native sons Andrew G. Vajna and Joe Eszterhas. Boffo local biz out of the gate in October to commemorate the 50th anni of the uprising is a feat unlikely to be replicated in other territories, though pic is a rousing entree for those who take their history with a lot of pyrotechnics and a little sex.
Though the human drama surrounding the true events is schematic, patriotic home auds were apparently ready for an injection of glossy glamour into their turbulent recent history: Pic was 2006 local box office champ by a good margin, with nearly half a million admissions tallied to date.
The hot-headed star player on the Hungarian water polo squad, Karcsi Szabo (Ivan Fenyo), concludes the early 1956 Moscow match against the thuggish Soviet Union team by hitting the clearly corrupt Russian referee in the face with the ball. “Screw them,” someone says later. “They think they own the world.”
Back in Budapest, and on the prowl for girls with teammate and best pal Tibi Vamos (Sandor Csanyi), Karcsi is hauled before secret police honcho “Uncle Feri” (Peter Haumann), plied with soft drinks and gum, and cautioned against striking Soviet comrades.
Shortly thereafter, he meets cute with firebrand Viki Falk (Kata Dobo), a leader of the nascent student revolt against Russian repression. When violence breaks out and the tanks roll in, Karcsi quits the sport to join Viki on the hustings and in the sack.
The Russians apparently beaten back, Karcsi rejoins the team leaving Budapest by bus for the 1956 Olympics in Australia — only to pass the second wave of tanks that will crush the uprising and install Soviet rule. Final act crosscuts between Viki’s fight for survival and the team’s physical yet fair thrashing of the Russians.
While exhibiting all the action hallmarks of a Vajna production, and the gravitational attraction of the sexes for which Eszterhas has become notorious, pic comes to resemble a loud, contempo version of the old social-issue stories in which Warner Bros. once specialized.
Screenplay (by Eszterhas and three other writers) scrupulously ticks off major plot points and story arcs in march-step order. Karcsi’s coach, family, the secret police and invading soldiers all play as if out of central casting. That said, those of Hungarian ancestry specifically, and geopolitical buffs in general, are bound to get a thrill — guilty or otherwise — out of seeing this pivotal historical showdown portrayed with such sweep and energy.
Director Krisztina Goda, whose romantic comedy “Just Sex and Nothing Else” was the year’s B.O. runner-up, keeps the drama focused among a cast of capable Magyar regulars.
Tech package is pro. Action set pieces are tautly constructed by vet stunt coordinator and second unit helmer Vic Armstrong, though some grisly carnage feels overly exploitative. Again echoing a vintage aesthetic, fulsome score casts subtlety to the wind.
Vajna also produced a docu on the subject in 2006, “Freedom’s Fury,” credited here as inspiration. Original Magyar title was missing from print caught.