The Blood of Heroes is one of those films that is far better than you would ever expect. Of course if you go by Rotten Tomatoes then this film is dreck, lacking in any real character development or entertainment value. Fortunately, the critics are not always right, and in this case they are more wrong than usual.
The cast of characters include:
Rutger Hauer as Sallow
Vincent D’Onofrio as Gar
Joan Chen as Kidda
Delroy Lindo as Mbulu
Anna Katarina as Big Cimber
The Blood of Heroes (or Salute of the Juggers as its also known) is set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. On the surface people live in small villages strewn across the blight, eking out survival by growing small crops and raising dogs for meat. Below the surface lay the nine cities. Sprawling industrial caverns, the remnants of an old world. Each city has a professional team they use to settle disputes and maintain their status. There are aristocratic groups that are highly privileged in the cities and while the Juggers are treated like gods, they are not royalty.
The story follows a team of Juggers as they travel the wasteland, moving from village to village, challenging each to compete in The Game. Victory means food, drink and sex are bestowed upon them. The team is lead by Sallow, a former Jugger in the nine cities who was banished for reasons we learn about through the film.
The game is simple. Five players on each team attempt to place a dog skull on a pike at the opposite end of the playing field. The catch is that only the player known as the “Quick” is able to touch the skull. The other four players fight one another in an attempt to open space for the Quick to score. Each game last for “100 stones, 3 times.” The Quicks do not carry implements, relying on their own fighting skills to beat one another as they try to wrestle the skull from one another.
What makes this film rise above expectation is how screenwriter and director David Peoples establishes the importance of the game and how its woven into the social and political order of the world. Its clear from the get-go that the game is akin to a common law (an expectation if you will) that no one will ignore or disrespect. The players and peasants sportsmanship and honor for those they compete against is unwavering. The Juggers will crush one another in competition, but after, they drink and celebrate whomever is the victor.
I won’t defend the acting, but the cast is made up of some very fine actors that obviously were taking risks early on in their careers. The stand out performance is Vincent D’Onofrio. Even this early on in his career he was killin it.
Its not surprising the level of subtleties built into the screenplay. We are provided no explanation of how the world came to be as it is in the film. No history of the game or how it developed. No backstory for anyone save Sallow and Chen. A smart move that avoids the pitfall of making things too complex. Its not surprising. David Peoples is responsible for writing some pretty fantastic and revered screenplays, to include Blade Runner, 12 Monkeys, Ladyhawke, and Unforgiven (yes, THAT Unforgiven).
What the film suffers from is a painfully low budget along allegory on plutocracy that is a bit too on the nose. Fortunately, the game is engaging and fun to watch, which minimizes the faults. The set-up to the final act (a challenge against one of the professional teams form the nine cites) is strong, built up through the film.
In the end, The Blood of Heroes is a sports movie dressed in a post-apocalyptic theme, which is woven together nicely. The game is engaging and handled deftly enough to make all the rest fall into place. Don’t let the bad reviews fool you, this film deserves cult status.