On the plus side, this counterculture-themed drama has a strong sense of time and place. Even though it was shot in England, the movie somehow evokes a vivid sense of America in the student-revolt era, from pristine campuses to trash-strewn ghettos. Furthermore, director Paul Williams and cinematographer Brian Probyn artfully situate characters within painterly shots to provide context for how people relate to different environments. And the overarching narrative is interesting because it tracks how a troubled student shifts from posturing campus demonstrator to radicalized anarchist. Unfortunately, the weakest element of The Revolutionary is the most fundamental one—Hans Koningsberger’s script, which he adapted from his own novel of the same name.
For instance, the lead character is known only as “A,” even though we see nearly every aspect of his life—his classwork, his home, his lover, his parents—so it’s clear right from the start that Koningsberger can’t decide whether to operate on a metaphorical or realistic plane. Worse, the storyline is logy and meandering, with excessive screen time devoted to uninteresting relationships. Much of the movie comprises A’s romance with Helen (Jennifer Salt), a rich girl whose lifestyle is pure Establishment, so it seems as if the focus is A choosing between creature comforts and political integrity. But then, nearly three-quarters of the way through the movie, A joins forces with Leonard II (Seymour Cassel), a radical whose activism involves outright lawlessness. So if the story is about how far A will go to serve his principles, then why bother with the Helen scenes or, for that matter, the unsatisfying bits with Despard (Robert Duvall), a mid-level organizer who debates politics with A but never has much impact on the overall narrative?
To be fair, the goal of The Revolutionary may simply have been to raise questions. However, the sponginess of the story is compounded by the middling nature of Voight’s performance. Yes, it’s tough to dramatize a character who’s racked by indecision, but spending 100 minutes watching someone almost do this and almost do that challenges viewers’ patience. Still, the film gets points for tackling worthwhile subject matter, and the technical execution is terrific. (Composer Michael Small deserves special mention for imbuing many scenes with tension.) Yet just like director Williams’ next film, the drug drama Dealing: Or the Berkeley-to-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues (1972), The Revolutionary strives for profundity it never quite achieves. (Available as part of the MGM Limited Collection on Amazon.com)
The Revolutionary: FUNKY