Battle of The Brave (2004)

[8 November 2006]

By Kate Spatola

Certain films seem destined, from their very conception, to live out their exhibition life in the weekend programming rotation of any one of the several women’s cable networks that flood the market.  Set against college football and third-rate home improvement shows, these contrived melodramas are dismissed and relegated to obscurity by even the very networks that have built their name on such entertainment. 

Such ignominy must be unbearable, especially if the melodrama in question is a big budgeted feature film.  But such seems the fate of Battle of the Brave, an insipid love story set against the backdrop of Quebec’s early colonial history.

With a $30million budget, Battle of the Brave has the distinction of being Quebec’s costliest production ever.  The budget, however modest by Hollywood standards, is not what distinguishes this film so much as the ineptitude with which that money was spent.  A clichéd story, stock characters, anachronistic dialogue, and indifferent plotting all lend to the feel of a poor television miniseries.

Set in Quebec, during the pivotal year of 1759 as France is quickly ceding control of their Canadian colony to Great Britain, Battle of the Brave aims to unite grand romantic passion with a nation’s storied past.  Returning from a hunting trip, Francois Le Gardeur (David La Haye), a young fur trapper, learns of the death of his powerful father.  Idealistic, honest, and estimably patriotic Francois is nothing like his father who was, apparently, colluding with Intendant Bigot (Vincent Perez) to steal from the New France colonies.

Any grief Francois may feel about his father’s death is instantly forgotten when he spots the beautiful Marie-Loup Carignan (Noémie Godin-Vigneau) in the local market.  Widowed at a young age and forced to care for her only daughter, Marie-Loup is so full of post-feminist spunk and determination that she seems to have been transplanted directly from the set of a Lifetime television drama.

Both are instantly smitten and soon begin their tired mating dance.  The course this relationship will take is never in question as the story is so poorly conceived and the script so poorly written.  Godin-Vigneau and La Haye certainly look the part of star-crossed lovers, but since they spend more time emoting (rather than acting), we never feel the connection that so binds them.

The power of Marie-Loup’s beauty is apparently so strong that she captures the attention and heart of not only Francois, but also, the corrupt Intendant Bigot, a duplicitous young soldier (Sébastien Huberdeau), and the town’s sickly priest (Gérard Depardieu).  Standard plot devices, such as the violent affection of others and unjust criminal accusations, are devised to separate the two leading characters, but the audience is never in suspense as to their enduring love.

Simultaneous with the blossoming romance between Francois and Marie-Loup is the intensification of political turmoil within Quebec.  Britain’s Prime Minister William Pitt (Tim Roth) and General James Wolfe (Jason Isaacs) are finalizing battle plans to wrest control of Canada away from France.  Alas, the historical backdrop does little to build up or support the central romance of the film.  From the dialogue and acting to the set design and direction, everything about this film feels overly stilted, disjointed, and grossly amateurish

Almost as quickly as the historical conflict between the English and the French is established do the Brits emerge victorious—a pathetically staged battle scene with a few rushing soldiers and loaded guns is the culmination of Pitt and Wolfe’s strategizing.  With little context and rushed plotting, the British acquire New France and the history lesson is over. Too bad, though, that we have more than half of the film left to suffer through as the central love story between Francois and Marie-Loup tragically, slowly, plays out.

After two hours and 20 minutes of bravely enduring stale cinematography, bland direction, bursts of cloy acting, overly melodramatic scoring, and unfocused writing, the filmmakers cannot resist the opportunity to inflict one last blow.  In a final outburst of cruelty toward audiences we are subjected to the unique torture that is a Celine Dion ballad. 

It seems only fitting that a film this terrible should end on such a nauseating note.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/battle-of-the-brave-2004/