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'Age of Uprising' never quite rises to the challenge

'Age of Uprising' never quite rises to the challenge
Mads Mikkelsen as Michael Kohlhaas and Delphine Chuillot as Judith in "Age of Uprising: The Legend of Michael Kohlhaas." (Music Box Films)

Hot on the heels of the injustice tale "The Hunt," stone-faced Danish heartthrob Mads Mikkelsen plays another wronged man in the medieval saga "Age of Uprising: The Legend of Michael Kohlhaas."

Adapted from the influential 16th century German novella but set now in France, the film chronicles the escalating methods taken by an honorable horse merchant (Mikkelsen) to seek recompense for a cruel baron's horse thievery. Faced with corruption, Kohlhaas stirs the peasants to embark with him on a campaign of bloody retribution with lasting consequences for his family, livelihood and belief in the rule of law.

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It's a strong story of lonely, even futile righteousness, which makes the plodding execution by director Arnaud des Pallierès somewhat mystifying. A sense of indirect engagement with the material hovers over the proceedings, save a piercing moral debate about duty between Kohlhaas and a pastor (Denis Lavant) and cinematography paired with sound — increasingly bleak countrysides smacked by brutal winds — that more than suggests existential struggle.

The real disappointment, though, is how checked-out Mikkelsen seems, content to rest on his naturally brooding, matinee stoicism when the movie could have used a jolting central performance of the kind Max von Sydow regularly provided for Ingmar Bergman.

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"Age of Uprising: The Legend of Michael Kohlhaas"

MPAA rating: None.

Running time: 2 hours, 2 minutes.

Playing: Laemmle's Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills.

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