Soldier of Orange (Netherlands, 1977)
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Starring Rutger Hauer, Jeroen Krabbé, Derek de Lint, Edward Fox
Paul Verhoeven's career is the living embodiment of 'never judge a book by its cover'. What on the surface appear to be nothing more than exercises in violent, sleazy indulgence bordering on soft-core porn, are in fact some of the most interesting, nuanced and intelligent examples of their respective genres (apart from Showgirls). Even so, you might struggle to defend Verhoeven's works on the grounds that they are entirely subtle - until you've seen Soldier of Orange, a truly great war drama which remains his best film.
Gandhi, to the point where we don't actually connect with them emotionally. Verhoeven, on the other hand, is driven by the need to tell the story as honestly as possible - and if that honesty involves showing people being smeared in goose fat or being blown up whilst on the toilet, then all the better.
If.... would have turned out had Verhoeven been in charge instead of Lindsay Anderson. Erik fills in for Mick Travis, and Rutger Hauer is every bit as charismatic as Malcolm McDowell, but instead of verbal taunting followed by a whipping, Erik sings off-key before being knocked out with a soup terrine.
Total Recall, the firing squad still is still pretty gruesome, for all the right reasons. And then there's the nudity, which is taken so much for granted that it's actually used as a plot point. When Erik finds he is being tailed by a German agent, he goes to the apartment of his best friend's wife, asking her to get undressed and then draw the curtains. The agent presumes the two are having sex, and waits for several hours while Erik escapes.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. It is testament to Verhoeven's skill that he can take something as silly as two men dancing the tango, and turn it into a complex battle of wits, with both parties being guarded with their words while being fully aware of the other's intentions and allegiances.
Spetters he gave the sexually open characters some kind of symbolic weight, but here neither Esther nor Susan get the screen time or development they deserve.