Film Review – Waiting for the Barbarians (2019)

Title – Waiting for the Barbarians (2019)

Director – Ciro Guerra (Embrace of the Serpent)

Cast – Mark Rylance, Johnny Depp, Robert Pattinson, Gana Bayarsaikhan, Greta Scacchi

Plot – A magistrate (Rylance) working for an unnamed empire in a remote outpost on foreign soil begins to question his loyalty to the cause when a series of bloodthirsty officers begin to make themselves known in his previously peaceful posts.

“This is their land” 

Review by Eddie on 04/11/2020

For much of the runtime of Waiting for the Barbarians its highly likely that most watches will be waiting for something to happen, as Ciro Guerra’s slowly paced and mostly incident free drama takes a snail like approach to its material that will frustrate more often than it engages, despite the best attempts from its leading man Mark Rylance to elevate the material at hand.

A picturesque feature that feels as though its bordering on the epic, there’s some prestige behind this adaptation of J.M. Coetzee’s book of the same name but Guerra’s lifeless take on the material makes it hard to invest too much of yourself in this tale of Rylance’s well-meaning magistrate questioning his role in a nameless barren landscape that is part of an unnamed western empire in the early 1900’s.

Battling against both Johnny Depp’s vile Colonel Joll and Robert Pattinson’s lackey Officer Mandel, Rylance’s magistrate gets a seriously bad run of luck as he tries his best to work with the local “barbarians” and right the wrongs of his fellow countryman only to find himself constantly battling the system that seems hellbent on creating unrest and unease in its overtaken lands.

Mostly known for his supporting roles, its always a pleasure to see Rylance given more time to shine on screen and his the best thing about Waiting by a country mile, as while the magistrate remains mysterious throughout (what drew him to this role? what does he really feel or think?) there’s no doubt that Rylance acquits himself well to the task at hand and does his utmost to make us care about what Guerra’s film is wanting us to feel and discover.

It’s a real shame the material and execution around Rylance isn’t able to match the award winning performer, Depp and Pattinson get rather minimal screen time and don’t get a great deal to work with while the films lethargic and uninspired direction ensures that for the most part of this dusty drama you will be fighting off urges to get some extra sleep.

Final Say – 

It’s hard to know exactly what Waiting for the Barbarians was trying to achieve as the film is saved solely by a committed Mark Rylance who tries his utmost to spark the film his is in to life. A dull and dreary affair, this is a wannabe prestige drama you’d do well to skip.

1 1/2 broken ankles out of 5 

2 responses to “Film Review – Waiting for the Barbarians (2019)

  1. I was actually interested in seeing this because I’m a big fan of both Robert Pattinson and Johnny Depp (who really deserves a comeback after the crap Amber Heard put him through), so it’s a shame that the movie turned out slow, dull, and unengaging.

    Honestly, the way you describe this movie reminds me of how some people describe Terrence Malick’s works. I personally have nothing against Malick, and I plan to check out his early work.

    Still, it’s a damn shame that this movie turned out to be a disappointment.

    • I am a fan of slow movies if they’re engaging still but this one is just a fairly emotionally cold and dreary affair.

      Pattinson and Depp are fine here but have very minimal time to make an impact.

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