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Christopher Lambert
and his "do"
—even the horse
has better hair!

Druids (2001)

Reviewed 2001-12-21
: I'm trying to find something good to say about Druids, which is marketed as Vercingétorix in Europe. (Yeah, that title will get them lining up at the cinema!) I don't think the film could have done worse. In fact, it went straight to video, where, if we are lucky, it will go straight to oblivion. It didn't have to be that way. This could have been Braveheart vs. Ancient Rome. But there are just too many problems with Druids to reclaim it for posterity.

First, the story — and it's pretty exciting as Julius Caesar records it in his "Gallic Wars," which I studied years ago in Latin class. History is always recorded by the winners, so a lot of what went on in the Gallic camps is supposition, though JC was pretty generous: for an imperialist, he had good character. Vercingetorix, who died in 46 BCE, was a Gallic chieftain who dreamed of uniting the rival tribes of Gaul under his leadership. The acute accent in the foreign title (Vercingétorix) must be a modern French thing, since the Gauls were illiterate and Caesar did not write with this late invention (the name is pronounced vur.sin.JET.uh.rix). Anyway, nothing unites rivals like a common enemy, so when Caesar's legions attempt their Gallic conquest in 60 BCE, Vercingetorix is elected leader of the defenders and avoids battle at all costs! The strategy was brilliant, in fact: he avoids battle until the terrain and the timing are favorable, then hits and runs. These unfamiliar tactics frustrate Caesar and, combined with his enemy's scorched earth policy — so the legionnaires can't live off the land as they pursue the Gauls — nearly leads to victory.

But in 52 BCE Vercingetorix shuts himself inside the fortified town of Alesia, near present-day Dijon, and summons all his Gallic allies to attack the besieging Romans. But Caesar is experienced at the siege and not only builds siege works outside the walls, shutting off the Gauls from replenishing their month's supply of food, but builds siege works against the allies he knows are on their way. Vercingetorix is defeated and is forced to surrender. Everyone behaves quite nobly throughout, (Caesar writes these words from his enemy: "The Romans have not won by superior courage or in fair fight...but by their expert knowledge of siegecraft, a special technique that we were unacquainted with."), though in the postscript it is noted that Caesar had Vercingetorix publicly beheaded as part of his triumph five years later.

Now, the problems. The actor playing the role of Vercingetorix is Christopher Lambert, who has very modest talent to begin with, and hasn't been in a good film since The Highlander (1986). He does not redeem himself in this film: he is simply not strong enough to carry the character. One actor who is strong enough seems lost, and his talent wasted, in a role that added nothing to the story: Max von Sydow as Guttuart. The love interest, Epona (Inés Sastre), was easy on the eyes but pure window dressing. Maria Kavardjikova as the sword master Rhia at least added something to the plot; she distracted a guard by flashing her excellent breasts and served as some kind of adviser to Vercingetorix. The biggest disappointment, however, was Klaus Maria Brandauer as Julius Caesar. He was neither larger than life, nor really interesting to watch, and I know he has more talent than was on display in this film.

In fact, the film itself managed to make an exciting confrontation... boring. (Well, OK, it was fun to watch the village women flash the Roman soldiers from the walls!) I really fought with myself over this one: I give a movie a chance, and even if I think it's awful I watch it all the way through. But if you start right off giggling at the hero's hairdo, you're really not going to take the film seriously. Druids is a worthy story poorly told.

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Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance reviewer.