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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
An Epic Action Adventure
by Betty Jo Tucker

Believe it or not, film critics are human too. Some actually have favorite movie stars and find it difficult to write an objective review about their performances. Where Antonio Banderas is concerned, yours truly pleads guilty. In fact, for a time I began classifying movies into two categories – those with Banderas and those without him. Such “with Banderas” films like Evita, Desperado, The Mask of Zorro, Original Sin and Once Upon a Time in Mexico may be few and far between, but they are always worth the wait to me -- which brings us to The 13th Warrior, an adventure thriller released back in 1999.

Based on Michael Crichton’s novel titled Eaters of the Dead, this unusual offering takes place in days of yore, during the tenth century to be more exact. Banderas plays Ibn Fahdlan, an Arab banished from his homeland for romancing the wrong woman. While traveling through Central Asia, a group of Nordic warriors force Ibn to join in their struggle against mysterious creatures who emerge from the fog and eat the dead bodies of their enemies.  

Director John McTiernan (Die Hard) had Banderas in mind for this role from the beginning. “He is a versatile and very involving actor, and I think he is someone who an audience can enjoy and believe in as they take this extraordinary adventure with him,” according to McTiernan. Banderas was attracted to the story because of its mystery. To Banderas, Ibn's journey became “an initiation process into being a man and into being a better person.”  

Unlike in The Mask of Zorro, the warrior training Banderas’ character receives here is neither humorous nor extensive. Educated as a poet, Ibn relies on the other 12 warriors. These huge men (average height – 6 foot, 6 inches) treat the smaller Banderas like a mascot and call him “Little Brother.” The developing trust and friendship between these men from different cultures emerges as a major theme of splendid film.

However, a lack of subtitles when the Norsemen talk with each other keeps the audience in the dark about what’s happening at times. Not to worry. Exciting battle sequences make up for any minor shortcomings. Yes, these scenes may contain too much blood and gore for sensitive viewers. (My husband thinks they give new meaning to the term “heads will roll.”) But weapons were a necessity during the time depicted, and people had to be ready to fight or they would die. One of the film’s most impressive scenes features as many as 200 horsemen charging into battle with torches, an awesome sight to behold.

Intriguing period costumes, fascinating cinematography, and stirring background music contribute to the epic nature of The 13th Warrior. And, of course, Banderas makes the movie something special -- even for many filmgoers who are not fans of the action-adventure genre.

(Released by Buena Vista Pictures and rated “R” for bloody battle scenes and carnage.)

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