The villains are unforgivable and must be vanquished. The heroes are relentless and must overcome.
Antonio Banderas is Ahmed Ibn Fadlan, a poet from Bagdad turned ambassador, a light punishment for looking in the direction of another man’s wife in Arabia. Making the best of it, he encounters the Norse men in his travels and seeks their king. Joining them briefly for an apparent celebration, a messenger arrives with news of an unspeakable threat, and a wise woman announces that thirteen warriors are required to vanquish it. As volunteers appear from among the Vikings, it is revealed that the thirteenth warrior cannot be a Norseman, and all eyes fall to Fadlan. Reluctantly he follows, and while on a quest that takes him over land and sea to destroy an unbeatable foe, Fadlan learns what kind of men the Vikings are and finds his place among them.
The story of The 13th Warrior is told through the eyes of Bandaras’ character while not being specifically about him. It centers around the Vikings and how they deal with life around them, particularly in the heat of battle and the preparations leading up to it. The Vikings and their king know what must be done and are willing to do what it takes to complete the task, utterly barbaric yet genuinely honorable. The battles are every bit as realistic as Braveheart though not as colorful, and many scenes are considerably more graphic, illustrating the brutality the unseen foes of the Vikings are capable of. There is little humor to be found among the carnage, but the spirits of the Vikings are kept light with frequent celebration, self-inflicted challenges, and more than an occasional insult tossed between them.
Bandaras’ Arabian ambassador is a different role than he’s played before, more intellectual than battle savvy. This is brilliantly portrayed in a scene where he learns the Viking’s language and returns insults they believe he can’t understand. He also puzzles out clues later to assist his companions in discovering the true nature of the horror they face. Vladimir Kulich plays the group’s leader, Buliwyf, and puts more than enough intensity into his performance to back up his warrior ways, a worthy performance given by a relative unknown with which to snag more parts. By the end of the film, you’ll know why his order are followed without question. Omar Sharif appears momentarily as Fadlan’s mentor, and Diane Venora is given higher billing but is still underused as the queen.
Overall, one can’t help but wonder why this film was kept out of the public eye for well over a year, normally a sure sign of garbage. Rumors persist about the director, John McTiernan, being confronted over his direction of the film by writer Michael Crichton, and, reportedly, Crichton won over out the director. The result is a film easily more watchable than earlier Crichton films, such as Congo (the quest ends and nothing was accomplished) or The Lost World (everybody runs away.) But after seeing the weak-but-watchable remake of The Thomas Crown Affair which McTiernan directed after Warrior, I can only smile that Crichton won out.
It doesn’t get more straight-forward than this: a true quest-for-glory film that doesn’t drop the ball for Hollywood’s sake.
(3 out of 4)
Cast: Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan – Antonio Banderas; Queen Hrothgar – Diane Venora; Herger the Joyous – Dennis Storhoi; Buliwyf – Vladimir Kulich; Melchisidek – Omar Sharif; Wigliff, King Hrothgar?s son – Anders T. Andersen; Skeld the Superstitious – Richard Bremmer; Weath the Musician – Tony Curran; Rethel the Archer – Mischa Hausserman; Roneth the Horseman – Neil Maffin; Halga the Wise – Asbjorn Riis; Helfdane the Large – Clive Russell; Edgtho the Silent – Daniel Southern; Haltaf the Boy – Oliver Sveinall; King Hrothgar – Sven Wollter; Hyglak the Quarrelsome – Albie Woodington.