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Modder en Bloed
Genre War
 
Review:

Modder en Bloed or Blood and Glory is a war drama, directed by Sean Else, who coaxed some fantastic performances from a stellar cast in his previous feature, 'n Man soos my Pa. This film stars Stian Bam, Grant Swanby and Charlotte Salt, who lead an equally adept ensemble with the likes of Deon Lotz, Edwin van der Walt, Bok van Blerk, Albert Maritz, Greg Kriek and Patrick Connolly.

The "Blood" part has a gritty edge, not shying away from its ruthless Full Metal Jacket boot camp aspirations as we journey with a farmer and family man, who becomes a prisoner-of-war on the notorious St. Helena concentration camp in 1901. Instead of Private Pyle and Gny. Sgt. Hartman, we have a bitter stand-off and power play between Willem Morkel and Colonel Swannell.

Stian Bam plays Morkel, an upstanding every-boer with nothing to lose. After being captured and unceremoniously welcomed to the island by the psychotic Colonel Swannell himself, he adjusts to the oppressive new circumstances finding a place among the dislocated prisoners. Bam has a Russell Crowe quality, carrying an expression of melancholy and suffering that projects his battle-weary disposition. As a tall man, he also stands above the rest as a natural leader, determined to weather the elements of injustice with a determined and headstrong performance.

He's pitted against Grant Swanby as the smug and sardonic Colonel Swannell, an imperialist and bully, whose position of power make him a proud and dastardly monster. Swanby relishes the opportunity to play Swannell, turning in a detestable villain, whose slithery performance makes a sharp contrast with our would-be hero, who Swannell commissions to form an opposition rugby team. While Charlotte Salt is a breath of fresh air to the male-dominated ensemble, offering an outsider's perspective and spiritual dynamic.

They may be brow-beaten, but they don't lose their sense of humour mostly thanks to a wonderful performance from Patrick Connolly as Finn Kelly, as a plucky Irishman and fellow inmate. The production values are strong as we're slowly immersed into a bleak concentration camp situation. The story quickly moves from South Africa's veld to the beach sand and grit of St. Helena, where we find some fortitude in a band of prisoners.

Just as the oppressive war drama settles in, the film turns into a double feature with the "Glory" part, reinventing itself as a formulaic sports drama in the vein of The Longest Yard. Instead of Burt Reynolds, we have Stian Bam, who fills his boots as a "Francois Pienaar" leading his hesitant teammates into the fray. The team selection and formation are amusing and the spirited performances certainly add to the charm of the sports drama as the prisoners take on the Colonel's pride and joy.

Modder en Bloed is an entertaining film as it pulls off a seemingly impossible genre balancing act. The historical backdrop holds its own interest as the triumph-of-the-human-spirit drama carries the story forward. While the tonal shift from bleak war drama to optimistic sports drama is welcome, it does leave the film off-balance. It's also difficult to truly embrace as the over-the-top "Last Big Push" score tries to add an extra layer of prestige to a film, which would've done well to keep things simple.

Rugby fans and history buffs will enjoy the curious genre mix and range of amusing characters. While Modder en Bloed is somewhat uneven, it's not short of passion and remains ambitious, spirited and entertaining enough to keep you rooting for the underdogs through all their trials.

The bottom line: Enjoyable


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