The Flowers Of War [2011] ★★★

Some movies open on thousands of screens, others play in just a handful of theaters. And some films, lacking promotion, simply materialize, with the hope that people will discover them on cable, or DVD, like “The Flowers Of Wars”, a movie I was lucky enough to catch on the big screen. I didn’t want to read a word about it before seeing it, and I’m glad I went in cold. Yet as I’m writing this, I still can’t get over the fact that it was a brutal movie to watch. Brutal because the film is set in Japan’s 1937 invasion of China in Nanking. For those who may not know, The Nanking invasion was also known as the Rape of Nanking, in which mass murder and rape occurred during a period of 6 weeks. Director Zhang Yimou creates a palpable sense of unease as he depicts those horrific events. But surprisingly enough, the movie is effective, even thought-provoking at times, and I can tell you straight away that I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. The movie features Christian Bale as an American mortician who gets tangled in the war and ends up seeking refuge in a Catholic church with a group of schoolgirls. I don’t think I need to tell you that Bale is absolutely terrific in this film, as usual. At first glance, he might seem like an unlikely contender for a movie like this one. But his performance hits all the right notes, and that’s one of the reasons why he’s one of the finest actors in Hollywood right now. But it’s not just about Bale here. Director Zhang Yimou has enough faith in his story, his actors, and most of all his audience, that he doesn’t feel the need to waste our time with unnecessary details. Yes it might be violent and quite possibly one of the hardest movies I had to endure this year, but “Flowers of War” is also a richly rewarding film that deserves to find an appreciative audience. I suggest you watch it.

Rating: 3/4

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