Film Review: Queen of the Desert

Posted in Reviews, Top Stories by - April 07, 2017
Film Review: Queen of the Desert

I tried writing this review a million different ways but honestly, I just have to be blunt and straightforward because this movie deserves nothing else. “Queen of the Desert” is probably one of the worst movies I’ve seen in recent memory. It boasts an impressive cast that delivers lackluster performances, pretentious storytelling and dialogue, and it’s just plain boring! Let’s go ahead and dive right in.

“Queen of the Desert” is written and directed by Werner Herzog and stars Nicole Kidman as Gertrude Bell, the esteemed archaeologist, and explorer who is inspired by her fiance, played by James Franco, to venture off and explore the vast deserts of Northern Africa and the middle east. On her adventures, she meets several influential local figures, including Lieutenant Colonel Charles “Richard” Doughty-Wylie, played by Damien Lewis and T.E. Lawrence, played by Robert Pattinson, who aid her in her efforts to learn as much about the land and it’s people as possible. Kidman, Franco, and Lewis are okay in their respective roles, despite Kidman looking pretty lost the whole way through and Franco coming off rather disinterested for the limited time he is on screen. Where the acting really gets thrown out the window is when Robert Pattinson is on screen. His portrayal of T.E. Lawrence is at best described as uneven. Whenever he speaks I feel like his voice is acting but his face isn’t. Pattinson pours a great deal of charm and wit in the delivery of every line, but it is quickly overshadowed by the fact that his face isn’t emoting even in the slightest! No matter what Pattinson is doing on screen, it is accompanied by the same deadpan stare that the actor is so well known for.

In regards to the writing in this picture, the story threads that hold this jumbled plot together are tenuous at best. Without going into spoilers, throughout the film’s hour and fifty-two-minute run-time, several characters and storylines are haphazardly taken out of the film in ways that left me scratching my head. To be clear, I understand that this is based on true events and the film has to maintain some kind of historical integrity, but that is no excuse for how lazy the writing is in these aforementioned instances. It feels like the budget of the film dictated how long an actor could portray a character, so they pushed some of the more interesting story threads aside so that they could hit a list of bullet points. The dialogue also takes a hit as everything is over dramatized and heavy handed. In one specific scene, about halfway through the film, T.E. Lawrence tells Gertrude “a man for you hasn’t been born yet”, inferring that she is a woman ahead of her time (mind you, at this point I’ve heard this line or a variation of it at least thirty times), yet the characterization of Gertrude Bell in this picture is far from that. She’s constantly pining over her lost love and even mentions at the end of the movie that the love of a man will elude her forever. Not exactly the words I would expect from what’s supposed to be a strong, independent female character.

Having said all of that, my biggest grievance with “Queen of the Desert” is just how boring it is. It’s like Werner Herzog got the “show, don’t tell” rule of filmmaking backward and decided to talk about the action instead. Don’t believe me? Well, let me enlighten you. The real Gertrude Bell is arguably best remembered for her work mapping the borders of modern-day Iraq on the request of Winston Churchill. The film even mentions this in the opening text, yet the entire plot of the movie takes place right before all of this and only decides to mention it again during the last fifteen minutes! Imagine going into seeing “Titanic” and the movie ends when Jack and Rose step foot on the ship, or watching “Braveheart” and having the credits role right after Mel Gibson’s riveting speech. “Queen of the Desert” takes the one thing that it had going for it, an epic tale of survival in an impossibly harsh and politically unstable landscape, and leaves it by the wayside in lieu of a by the numbers romance.

If you want to learn more about the mapping and exploration of the middle east go watch “Lawrence of Arabia” or dust off your old history books, but stay far away from this movie. This should go without saying, skip “Queen of the Desert”. It’s a dull, uninteresting, pretentious mess that I wouldn’t recommend to anyone.

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