Parents' Guide to

Waiting for the Barbarians

By Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 17+

Uneven but powerful war drama has gory violence.

Movie NR 2020 113 minutes
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Uneven and sometimes a little rigid, this adaptation of J.M. Coetzee's 1980 novel eventually finds its footing through several forceful performances, some gorgeous passages, and its relevant themes. Adapted by Nobel Prize winner Coetzee himself (his first screenplay) and directed by Colombian filmmaker Ciro Guerra (the Oscar-nominated Embrace of the Serpent), Waiting for the Barbarians is told in four chapters, one named for each season. It starts off a little oddly, given that it's set in no particular time or place. Then Colonel Joll arrives wearing strange, otherworldly sunglasses; coupled with the writerly sounding dialogue, it feels as if the movie could almost be science fiction.

Fortunately, the performers find ways to act through the words -- Rylance with his inherent sense of kindness and soft intelligence and Depp amusingly expressing a seething evil, perfectly controlled and inflexible, conveyed through one of the actor's trademark brisk British accents. Bayarsaikhan has a quietly mesmerizing screen presence, and Pattinson lets his steely eyes and jaw project a searing brutality. The dynamic, well-composed outdoor sequences further improve things, even if the last chapter suddenly includes images of violence and horror that some viewers may wish they could unsee. But it's the final image of Waiting for the Barbarians that haunts, leaving off with the realization that we brought this on ourselves.

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