During the 17th Century, Holland was the first country to become a mostly democratic republic. Despite a massive and contentious political divide within the country about where to head with their new system of governance (broken down between the Republicans and the Orangists), the nation’s status as a democracy made it a major target for the British and French, two countries with which the Netherlands found itself embroiled in massive trade wars. One of the biggest naval heroes in Dutch history was Admiral Michiel De Ruyter (Frank Lammers), an equally loved and hated soldier who was given the unenviable task of taking over for the country’s most successful military leaders, Maarten Tromp (a cameoing Rutger Hauer). Caught between two parts of government heading towards a civil war and an increasingly relentless onslaught from the British, De Ruyter navigates seas of enemy ships and shifting allegiances in hopes of bringing his country to glory and preventing further infighting.
The second most-expensive Dutch production of all time (next to Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book), Roel Reiné’s Admiral delivers a lot of spectacle, derring-do, top-notch action, and overblown theatrics. It’s easy to see why this picked up the audience award at the European Union Film Festival last year. It’s easy to please and easy to like despite a plethora of historical liberties and inaccuracies. As a historical drama, it’s pretty much brain-dead shorthand, but it’s also an undeniable amount of fun.
Reiné’s C.V. reads like a graveyard of American direct-to-video action movie sequels, and he brings his knowledge of trash cinema back home with him. It’s over the top in terms of grotesquerie (including one of the most bafflingly gleeful castrations in cinematic history) and performance (especially from a blissfully hammy Charles Dance’s King Charles II). It’s chock-full of portentous dialogue and ominous, unsubtle musical stings that would make Hans Zimmer grin from ear to ear. There are twists every few seconds, rousing speeches and plenty of shots of wooden ships splintering from cannon fire in slow motion.
Is it historically accurate? Hell no. Is it entertaining enough for people who want a decent action film in the Michael Bay, Paul Verhoeven, or Paul W.S. Anderson vein? Absolutely.