Greetings again from the darkness. There are some actors I follow simply because I admire their work. Ben Foster earned that loyalty with his performances in such films as LEAVE NO TRACE (2018), HELL OR HIGH WATER (2016), and 3:10 TO YUMA (2007). Here he is cast as Jan Zizka, the legendary 15th century Czech icon whom historians have pegged as having never lost a battle. At the helm is Czech writer-director Petr Jakl whose previous films did not come close to this scale. The list of credited screenwriters includes director Jakl, his father Petr Jakl Sr, Marek Dobes, Michal Petrus, Kevin Bernhardt, and Petr Bok. I don’t pretend to know which of these writers had the greatest impact, but what I can report is that the film looks great and includes some of the best battle scenes you’ll find in any film set in the Middle Ages.
“Tyranny.” The narrator opens the film with that word, followed by an explanation of the ongoing battle for the power and control of the Catholic Church. That narrator is Lord Boresh, played by 2-time Oscar winner Michael Caine, who has paid Jan Zizka and his band of rebels to protect him from assassination attempts. Director Jakl doesn’t make us wait long for the first skirmish, and it gives us a taste of what’s to come. These are no-holds-barred battles where bones and faces are crushed, and horses toppled into rivers. This is Italy 1402.
After the battle, Zizka heads to Prague to reunite with his brother, and while he’s there, the political maneuvering and power-brokering is occurring. Those involved include Lord Boresh, the King of Bohemia (Karel Roden, ROCKNROLLA, 2008), his half-brother, the King of Hungary (Matthew Goode, THE IMITATION GAME, 2014), and nobleman Rosenberg (Til Schweiger, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, 2009). When Rosenberg refuses to cooperate, a plan is hatched to kidnap his fiancé Katherine (Sophie Lowe, so good in BLOW THE MAN DOWN, 2019), who also happens to be the niece of the King of France. It may seem challenging to keep the political alliances straight, but fear not, double-crossing and backstabbing adds to the fun.
Katherine is in fact kidnapped. And then kidnapped from the kidnappers. And then rescued … well, you get the idea. It seems her own allegiance transitions as she discovers the true character of her fiancé. Plus, it seems she walks at least 42 miles during all of this. What really makes this one worth watching are the battle scenes, including a face-off between Zizka and his mentor, the intimidating Torak (Roland Moller, ATOMIC BLONDE, 2017). The fights are bloody and gruesome and violent. The brutality is as realistic as you could want, while cinematographer Jesper Toffner captures these scenes in the most visceral manner possible … we are not let off the hook from the damage caused by swords, axes, maces, and mauls.
Director Jakl highlights Zizka as a military strategist and tactician, and not just a brute. It’s this part of the personality that best fits Foster’s talent. It’s difficult to know how much of this true story is accurate and how much is legend (always print the legend!), but the push for religious and political power and control seems a common topic regardless of century.
Opening in theaters on September 9, 2022