Tuesday, December 6, 2011
12-06-11: War is hell.
THE FLOWERS OF WAR (2011) ****1/2 140 mins. D: Yimou Zhang. Christian Bale, Ni Ni,
During the Nanking massacre of 1937, an at first disinterested American witnesses the brutality of war and tries to find a way to save the young girls that look to him to be their protector.
The Nanking massacre was a brutal period in the history of warfare, in it the Japanese army invaded the city of Nanking and killed hundreds of thousands and raped 20,000 to 80,000 men, women and children. This film captures the horror, the desperation, the brutality of that period, as well as the resoluteness of the people of Nanking.
Christian Bale is stellar as John Miller, a man who only came to do a job but finds himself put into a precarious position. You see him change from a man only interested in booze and women to one who is willing to stand up for what is right even if it could cost him his life. I was quite moved in a scene where he attempts to calm the girls by trying to put a nicer spin on events but he knows how false his words are and he begins to breakdown because he knows he's lying and knows what's in store. Ni Ni, in her first feature film, is excellent as an escort he meets. She is quite good in one scene where she describes how her life has been destroyed and how she would hate to see that happen to anyone.
Yimou Zhang gets fine performances from all his actors. His direction is assured and measured. He doesn't exploit the events and does just enough to convey the gravity of it all. He handles the last third of the film nicely as he puts the viewer through an emotional ringer. You're happy and sad, left drained and empty yet leave uplifted.
It's a haunting and brutal film that is one of the best of the year.