Set before, during, and after an unnamed revolution in an unknown country in an unknown time, Land of the Blind suggests that power corrupts. That those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. And that all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for enough good men to do nothing. In other words, there’s nothing particularly revolutionary about writer-director Robert Edwards’ grimly satiric political fable — nothing explained, either, about why a character who’s, say, a staunch opponent of the reigning dictatorship, imprisoned and tortured, should, upon his release and post-revolution ascension to leadership, become just as despicable as the previous despot.
To compensate, there’s an excess of handsome, jittery visual and theatrical style to this barrels-blazing first film from Edwards, a former U.S. Army infantryman and intelligence officer who won a prestigious Nicholl screenwriting fellowship for his script. The flyaway story is anchored, certainly, by the fired-up performances of Donald Sutherland as Thorne, the prisoner?turned?power grabber, and Ralph Fiennes as Joe, the obedient Establishment soldier who comes to support Thorne’s rebel cause, and then to regret his choice of candidate. Wearing the long hair of a 19th-century romantic and writing manifestos on his prison wall with feces, Sutherland’s Thorne (a jab in the side of the status quo?) is a tainted hero, while Fiennes bestows his usual compelling queasiness of soul on the character meant to represent…us? Just a guess.
Meanwhile, the filmmaker revels in the easy gibe. (In this strange Land, Friends is a perpetual TV repeat.) Intent on demonstrating the crimes of Maximilian (Gosford Park’s Tom Hollander, specializing in facial expressions of pampered idiocy), the spoiled weakling dictator who inherits his president-for-life privileges when his Mussolini-headed father dies, Edwards shows the cruel fool consulting with advisers while straining and wiping on his own porcelain throne; he also presents the boor as an untalented wannabe filmmaker. In the movie’s one-eyed philosophy, that’s what passes as the last refuge of a scoundrel.