Plot: Max (Clive Owen) and his partner Rudy (Brian Webber) were at odds after an orgiastic party the night before, as some disapproval and jealousy sparked in Rudy over Max’s lover that night. The night was filled with pleasure and excess, as a number of folks partied hard and enjoyed all manner of carnal delights, but the next morning, things take a darker turn. A squad of Nazi troopers storm in and execute Max’s one night stand, as he was a Nazi and gays aren’t allowed in their ranks. Before they suffered the same fate, Max and Rudy made a run for freedom and managed to escape, but life on the run is harsh and tough. The two are eventually captured and transported to a work camp, but the unthinkable happens and Max is forced to do things he never dreamed he was capable of, all to survive. Has he lost his faith in humanity in the face of extreme suffering or is there hope, even in the camp’s bleak existence?
Entertainment Value: Bent is a tough film to watch, as it is often dark and oppressive in tone, but it also has moments of triumph and is masterfully executed. The narrative is rooted in historical elements, so to think these kind of events (and likely even worse) actually took place makes the story even more horrific. The movie is based on an acclaimed stage production, but translates well to cinema and has a bigger sense of scale, though the core narrative remains deeply personal. The focus is on characters above all else and given the confined situations involved, that means the writing and performers have to be on point. On the writing front, the story is handled in unflinching fashion and isn’t afraid to show us the horrors these men are experiencing, which serves to make their small victories all the more valuable. This is bold, determined material and I am glad it doesn’t often lighten the tone for our sake, as many other movies would likely to do with this kind of narrative. I also appreciated how there are scenes that are pushed by non verbal elements, especially one Max arrives at the camp, where he feels like the slightest weakness will be exploited. The pace isn’t brisk, but it allows the needed time to advance the character development and that is the draw here, so a slower pace is not a concern. In the end, Bent is a powerful and memorable film that is hard to watch at times, but deserves to be seen.
I was beyond impressed with the cast of Bent, as the ensemble of talent here is imposing and even in smaller roles, the performers shine. Clive Owen’s career is a mixed bag to say the least, but he can rise to the occasion when he wants to and his turn in Bent is more than proof of that. His effort here is sincere and powerful, with genuine emotion and quite a bit of development, but he is also given moments to let his natural charm come across. Those moments, ever so infrequent are a welcome relief from the bleak, downbeat tone of the movie. Owen flexes his dramatic chops in grand style here, the kind of performance that will likely stun those more familiar with his action films than his powerful, more serious roles. A few well known actors also pop up in Bent, in small roles perhaps, but it is still a pleasure to see them at work here. Jude Law, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, and even Mick Jagger have small parts. The more prominent cast members also include Brian Webber, Lothaire Bluteau, and Ian McKellen.
The Disc: Bent’s Blu-ray release comes from Film Movement and the visual treatment looks good, though the style used doesn’t lend itself to the usual HD splendor. The movie uses muted colors and a good deal of grittiness to the texture, so that can dampen the visual impact somewhat. But this presentation is faithful to the film’s intent and that’s what counts, so while it might not offer a substantial improvement, it is likely the best Bent can look on home video. The extras include a brief look behind the scenes, some cast & crew interviews, and a Mick Jagger music video for Streets of Berlin.