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Paul Verhoeven’s Flesh + Blood—it’s all right there in the title

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: The Hobbit has us thinking about swordplay.

Flesh + Blood
From the start of his career, Dutch director Paul Verhoeven has mostly focused on making violent, sexy genre pieces—often punishing, often absurd, and always placed in the context of a moralistic pessimism. Verhoeven’s 1985 English-language film debut Flesh + Blood wallows in mud and misery, with Rutger Hauer playing an early-16th-century mercenary who leads a troupe of undesirables in a revolt against a deadbeat lord, and Jennifer Jason Leigh playing a virginal lady who’s kidnapped by the rebels and becomes Hauer’s (mostly) willing mate. Flesh + Blood contains a heavy religious component, as Hauer fosters loyalty by insisting that he can spot signs from God. But since Verhoeven believes in God but not religion, he makes Christian rituals look as vulgar as possible, as Hauer pounds down Eucharist like cocktail peanuts before heading off to pillage. Meanwhile, the director loads up on clanging swordfights, spattered with gore and scored to barbaric laughter.

Flesh + Blood emphasizes the characters’ obsession with sex, their fear of plague, and their fascination with the clever inventions that facilitate war. These rebels aren’t so much crude as emotionally stunted, such that when they raid a castle, they behave like hormone-drunk teens at an unchaperoned house party. Verhoeven revels in all of this, framing the orgies in ways that show the human body as frail and bare. The rawness of it all fits into Verhoeven’s persistent vision of a world of mass delusion, where self-interest masquerades as good intentions—a hell on Earth where the poor die while the rich get paid.

Availability: Flesh + Blood is available on a budget-priced DVD from MGM, and available to rent or buy digitally from multiple online retailers.