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A foreign film in the Hollywood tradition
Viggo Mortensen Stars in "Alatriste".
DOMESTIC TOTAL: $16,000,000
OTHER PREVIEWS: Man About Town (5/10)
June 28th, 2006: Diego Alatriste (Viggo Mortensen) is not a virtuous soul, but he is a man of honor and valor. As a Captain in the Spanish army in the 17th Century, he emerges as a hero in his country’s imperial wars. In his personal life, he is passionately in love with the beautiful María de Castro (Ariadna Gil), a famous stage actress. To keep a promise he made to his dying father, Alatriste watches over the young Íñigo de Balboa (Unax Ugalde) and attempts to steer him clear of a military career that he himself has chosen. More importantly, he wants to keep him away from the divine, but dangerous Angelica de Alquézar (Elena Anaya). Íñigo may be infatuated with the striking beauty, but her father, Luis de Alquézar, happens to be Alatriste’s sworn enemy. Mysterious hooded figures, supposedly acting on the behalf of Fray Emilio Bocanegra (Blanca Portillo), the president of the “Holy Tribunal of the Inquisition,” hired Captain Alatriste and Luis de Alquézar to murder two English travelers, who have come to visit the British ambassador. When Alatriste meets the Englishmen, he is impressed by their fighting spirit and decides to let them go free, angering Luis de Alquézar in the process.

What to Expect: Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s five novels about the swashbuckler Alatriste are not well known in America, but have enthralled readers all across the world. The books have been published in over 50 countries and have been translated into more than 25 languages, although only the first two parts, Captain Alatriste and Purity of Blood have been released in the English language thus far. Altogether, over 4 million copies of the novels have been sold and the series has become a sensation in its native Spain. Reverte’s adventures could be called a cross between Zorro and The Three Musketeers and his quick prose shapes them into popular entertainment at its finest. The author, who also wrote The Ninth Gate, which eventually became a Roman Polanski film, draws many references to Spanish history, art, culture, and ancient treasure fables. The Alatriste novels are rich in historical detail, packed with action and intrigue, and frequently touch upon that peculiar relationship between religion and politics. Themes of morality, ethics, love, power, and wealth, which have been explored in literature for ages, are once again at the forefront in Reverte’s books.

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The story in the novels and in the film takes place between 1622 and 1643, with the easily manipulated Felipe IV, king of the House of Austria, reigning over the nation. The empire is in a steady decline and the rich aristocracy must coexist with the everyday poor. Poverty is visible on the streets with rundown taverns situated right next to exquisite architecture. In this society of splendor, decadence, and war, Reverte introduces his protagonist, Captain Alatriste. The charismatic hero is a complex individual – part mercenary, part man of honor, and always temperamental. Surrounded by equally dangerous men, some historical figures and some fictional characters, Alatriste chooses to trust only a select few.

Antonio Banderas, Puss In Boots himself, was originally interested in starring in and directing the picture, but the producers were not keen to some of his ideas and the talks fell through. As a result, Danish-American actor Viggo Mortensen nabbed the titular role. Before anyone questions how a Spaniard could be passed over for a Danish-American in a Spanish language production, it should be known that Mortensen spent a lot of time in South America as a child and speaks the language fluently. He is also arguably a better actor than Banderas and can pull off the part with the necessary menace and chilly apathy. Just look at his performance in A History of Violence for an example. Furthermore, he has plenty of experience with horses and swordplay having made the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Hidalgo and should be able to carry the epic with ease and credibility.

Gael García Bernal was the first choice for the part of Íñigo de Balboa, Alatriste’s right hand man. Eventually the role went to Unax Ugalde, whose name is probably not familiar to a vast majority of Americans. Elena Anaya, who some may remember from the disappointing Hugh Jackman blockbuster Van Helsing, will play Angelica de Alquézar, Balboa’s love interest. With a prominent role also in the upcoming In the Land of Women, she may quickly become a crossover star.

Principal photography took place throughout Spain as the filmmakers focused on authenticity. Special care went into the costumes, the battle sequences, and the historical accuracy. More than 10,000 extras were hired to take part in the production. In fact, at approximately $30 million, Alatriste is the most expensive Spanish feature film ever. Since that’s actually peanuts compared to the budget of the average American blockbuster, it raises an interesting point. When it comes to subtle artistic statements, European cinema probably surpasses American contributions to the art form, but no other nation in the world can make an epic movie like Hollywood. Why struggle through a Spanish blockbuster when there are already dozens of useless American ones each year? On the other hand, this is where some of that European elegance may come in handy. Instead of a pompous and unbelievable, special effects heavy extravaganza, Alatriste is likely to lay out a plausible storyline and feature characters of some depth and dimension that can further the plot and enhance the action. Hopefully, it can become a film that blurs the lines between right and wrong and offers some room for thought and interpretation, which would be vastly preferred to a simplistic or heavy-handed flick.

In Conclusion: When I first heard that Alatriste was entirely in Spanish, I immediately thought it dropped several notches as a potential hit this holiday season. Then again, if I watch the trailer with the sound on mute, I see little difference between this movie and other, similar domestic ones. Producers are clearly gearing it to succeed in America, which means that it should be easily accessible for most individuals, but will probably be somewhat conventional as well. Mortensen is becoming a hotter actor by the minute so he may be able to propel Alatriste to some international success. Respectable Spanish director Agustín Díaz Yanes should have his first noteworthy feature here in the States.

Similar Titles: The Mask of Zorro, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, A Very Long Engagement
2010 (wide)

20th Century Fox

Agustín Díaz Yanes

Viggo Mortensen, Elena Anaya, Javier Cámara, Pedro Almagro, Pilar Bardem, Antonio Dechent, Juan Echanove, Skippy Farlstendoiro, Eduard Fernández, Ariadna Gil, Unax Ugalde, Blanca Portillo

Total: 160 vote(s).

Action & Adventure, Suspense

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