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original title: All the Queen's Men
duration: 1h 39min
keywords: behindenemylines, punctuationintitle, apostropheintitle, gayinterest, spy, party, library, espionage, enigmamachine, worldwartwo, gaysoldier, dragqueen, mandressedaswoman, independentfilm
Matt LeBlanc is wooden, sullen and mechanical as OSS officer Steven O'Rourke -- an American who has already tried to steal an "Enigma" code machine from the Germans in Italy. LeBlanc plays O'Rourke as an arrogant, unsympathetic and violent "ugly American" who always knows better than his British counterparts (who seem toffee-nosed, elitist, rule-bound and lacking in common sense). The film is touted with the tag-line "see Matt LeBlanc -- in a dress!" Yet, LeBlanc's character openly ridicules cross-dressing in the film and is seen in drag only three short times (during the opening insertion into Germany, at the Gestapo party and during the factory scene toward the end). Throughout the film, the director and writer go to extreme lengths to "prove" LeBlanc's heterosexuality -- by having him look unfeminine in drag, by having him openly seek sex with Resistance contact Romy (at one point, you almost expect them to do it in her attic apartment; her legs are spread, he's between them, and all that has to happen is for him to drop his pants), and by having him do a variety of butch and masculine things that seem stupid for a spy to do (like sit on a rooftop and use his radio, engage in running gun-battles in downtown Berlin in broad daylight, and steal an airplane from a Luftwaffe fighter base).
Eddie Izzard is the film's stand-out lead. The real-life transvestite and comedian not only knows how to play comedy but he doesn't denigrate drag or homosexuality (or bisexuality). Most of the film focuses on Izzard's character, anyway -- he turns the rag-tag group of non-spies into believable (sic) women, it is his attempt to find German ex-lovers Franz (a man) and Paloma (his ex-wife) that is the primary reason the plot moves forward and resolves itself.
James Cosmo as pencil-pushing pre-retirement British Army sergeant Archie is well-cast. Although he takes a while to get a handle on his character (especially in the opening scenes), he is one of the film's real gems. Especially poignant are the scene with his wife the night before he is to infiltrate Germany, his part in finding the Enigma factory, and his final scenes -- where he adopts an orphan German girl and steals the Enigma device and where he sacrifices himself in order let the others escape and the Allies win the war.
David Birkin as Johnno, the code-cracking wunderkind who speaks 27 languages is a little lightweight for this cast, but he is able and manages to score several wonderful moments. The look on his drunken face as he's gambled over in the lounge where Paloma sings is just precious, and his grief and confusion when the German officer is stabbed to death before his young eyes is palpable. One wishes, however, that his character had been given more depth (I came away wondering if perhaps his character wasn't supposed to be sexually confused; it would have added to the film if he had been).
Nicolette Krebitz as Romy, the German Underground librarian, is wasted in this film. She's beautiful, she has class, and she has real acting skill. Her decisiveness as the group escapes the library provides an unreal scene with believability. Her acting is reminiscent of the many female spy roles in war movies from the 40s and 50s -- a real compliment! About the only time things fall apart for her is when she's matched with LeBlanc, who -- as an actor -- gives very little for his co-stars to work with in scenes.
Oliver Korittke as Izzard's boyfriend Franz is wonderful as well. Franz comes off believable and real, and matches Izzard emotion for emotion without making the audience think that he's thumbing his nose at homosexuality on the inside. One only wishes he appeared in more scenes and had more to do. Watch for Edward Fox in an outstanding role as Col. Aiken -- the uber-British Royal Army officer! He's great!
Otherwise, the film is a very mixed bag. There are numerous, obvious plot holes. For example, why does the Army infiltrate spies who can't speak German into Germany? LeBlanc says he spent four months among German Army troops in Italy, trying to steal an Enigma machine -- yet he can't speak German? Why does LeBlanc go into the open to send his radio signals? How does a fat-bodied airplane manage to escape Germany and occupied Europe without being shot down or fighters sent after it or being shot down by British AA or fighters? Why does LeBlanc try to burn down Gen. Lansdorff's office -- and him with it? (Won't this raise suspicion about "Gina"?)
There are some great visual moments in the film -- notably, the shot of hundreds of bombers flying at night over a Germany aflame. There is another scene shortly thereafter when the spies parachute out of the plane, and they float down over a darkened countryside -- with Berlin on fire and bombs exploding in the city streets in the background. In another part of the film, the guys wander (in drag) through the streets of Berlin -- which are shattered and ruined. Up til now, they have talked about "Jerry" and "kraut" -- and only now do they realize that war is destroying Germany. (And yes, we soon see a rich German Army general and his dolled-up wife exiting a car, proof that it is the German people who are suffering and not the elites.)
But the editing -- while smooth and seamless -- doesn't have much style to it. The opening and closing titles are difficult to watch (they are inventive, but like Flash coding -- they are also very annoying). The music in the film seems to comprise largely of one semi-swing piece of music played at the beginning and end of the film, and whenever the audience is "supposed to laugh."
By the film's end, I was terribly disappointed with "All the Queen's Men." What is billed as an action-drama-comedy with a positive view of cross-dressing instead plays transvestitism for laughs in the way that you'd expect from a film in the 1950s. Where a more honest leading man would embrace the character of O'Rourke and what he has to do to win the war, LeBlanc seems so afraid of being labeled queer that he has forced O'Rourke to embrace him. The result is a "comedy" whose laughter comes at the expense of its audience. It's too bad that the film couldn't have just focused on Izzard, Cosmo and Birkin -- it would have worked, and worked amazingly well. Rarely has a movie worked so hard to be so inconsequential.
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