Mads Mikkelsen as Michael Kohlhaas in Age of Uprising: The Legend of Michael Kohlhaas (Music Box Films)
The past few years have seen veteran Danish thesp Mads Mikkelsen take the English-language film world by storm with a string of plum roles, ranging from the sinister Le Chiffre in Casino Royale to the deceptively charming Dr. Lecter in NBC’s excellent reboot of “Hannibal.” However, recently, Mikkelsen returned to his continental roots, first in the low-key Danish drama The Hunt, and now in the French-German historical epic, Age of Uprising: The Legend of Michael Kohlhaas.
Based on an 1808 novella by Prussian author Heinrich von Kleist, Uprising tells the story of the titular Kohlhaas (Mikkelsen), a provincial horse dealer in northeastern Germany who is unjustly cheated out of two fine horses by a sleazy local Baron (Swann Arlaud), who claims he’s owed the property as part of a new tariff. When Kohlhaas makes strides to petition this wrongdoing in court, he finds his case wholly dismissed by corrupt bureaucrats. Stunned, Kohlhaas considers getting justice through force, but his wife Lisbeth (Mélusine Mayance) implores him to hold off. She attempts to plead the case to the Princess (Roxane Duran), only to be brutally murdered for her trouble. In response, Kohlhaas rounds up a crew of locals who share his outrage and takes the fight directly to the crooked upper crust, engaging in all-out warfare to tip back the scales of justice.
Despite its somewhat fantastical title, Age of Uprising is far more subdued in every way than your typical swords-and-sandals epic, skirting closer to The Seventh Seal than “Game of Thrones.” There is swordplay, to be sure, but director Arnaud des Pallières chooses to show it from a distance, imbued with cold detachment rather than furious bloodlust. The character at the film’s core is no William Wallace, either. Played to frosty perfection by the deadpan Mikkelsen, Kohlhaas is far from a scream-y hothead bellowing about revenge. Instead, he is interested solely in fairness – the sworn duty of those in power being properly upheld. Indeed, one knows it’s a German epic when the importance of order and organization is valued above even the loss of human life. Where other films of its ilk are all brash brawn and pumped-up machismo, Uprising is delicate and mediative, choosing to linger on methodical shots of the countryside in winter or a gaggle of solemn nuns huddled in prayer rather than limbs flying and trebuchets loosed.
Overall, if you’ve grown tired of the brazen “Game of Thrones” knock-offs proliferating theaters and TV sets these days, you might be pleasantly surprised to find that Age of Uprising: The Legend of Michael Kohlhaas is in fact a rare period piece that isn’t afraid to take its time and tackle big themes. Special features include interviews with the cast and crew, trailers and interactive scene access.