With a premise like Rob Roy and a title like a video game, one might expect Arnaud des Pallières’s Age of Uprising: The Legend of Michael Kohlhaas to be louder.
But instead of embracing its inner Braveheart, the feudal revenge drama sacrifices thrills in favor of moral reflection in the unspoiled French countryside, keeping most of its violence at arm’s length.
When dogs are set on a man, we don’t see the attack, only evidence of the wounds. Mounted soldiers attack a caravan, and we watch from atop a hill; guards drop silently as horsemen pass. This muted approach robs the film of sorely needed momentum, but offers a rare opportunity for contemplation, a trade-off that only occasionally satisfies.
As Kohlhaas, a merchant wronged by a young noble, Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal) is charismatic and taciturn, buoyed by pride and a need for justice. He gathers an army, enforcing a strict code of conduct among his men.
Yet his ethics don’t stand unchallenged: In a pivotal scene, he’s confronted by a respected theologian (Holy Motors‘ Denis Lavant, electric here), who charges that Kohlhaas’s supposed morality is nonetheless sending people to the grave. It’s a point glossed over in livelier epics.