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Watch Waiting for the Barbarians (2019), Story, Stars, Reviews & All You Want To Know About A Great Movie

Sep 6, 2022
Watch Waiting for the Barbarians (2019), Story, Stars, Reviews & All You Want To Know About A Great Movie

Watch Waiting for the Barbarians (2019), Story, Stars, Reviews & All You Want To Know About A Great Movie


Waiting for the Barbarians (2019)

At an isolated frontier outpost, a colonial magistrate suffers a crisis of conscience when an army colonel arrives looking to interrogate the locals about an impending uprising, using cruel tactics that horrify the magistrate.

Waiting for the Barbarians (2019) Trailer


Waiting for the Barbarians (2019) Reviews

Mark Rylance had an easier time making us believe he was the 24-feet-tall “BFG” than he does here, trying to sell us a colonizer with a conscience in Ciro Guerra’s tedious “Waiting for the Barbarians.” The gentle actor plays a man here known as The Magistrate, the one guy in the 19th century British Empire who does not want to be cruel toward the nomads they’ve stolen the land from.There is a peace within The Magistrate’s small and unspecified corner of the empire, one that emanates from the quiet way he carries himself and chooses to help the nomads instead of locking them up. He even spends his nights trying to understand more of their language. If any colonizer could create a harmonious civilization, built on empathy but still following hierarchy, The Magistrate has done it. 

In rides Johnny Depp’s supremely smug Colonel Joll, with his stiff posture, cryptic cheekbones, and large round black sunglasses that turn his face into a creepy void. He has arrived to obtain information from the nomads about a possible upcoming invasion, and he has different tactics than The Magistrate’s social work—he believes that torture leads to truth, and talks about the nomads like they are livestock with minimal significance.This conversation completely blows The Magistrate’s mind, so much that Guerra immediately cuts to him in a giant daze while trying to go about his activities, as if he had never really thought about it that way. That this one good apple is flabbergasted at how many bad apples are around him—the moment is meant to be a bold filmmaking choice, but instead it’s ridiculous. As he continues to wrestle with this weak inner turmoil, the movie’s pacing suffers, and so does its ability to keep our interest.

The Magistrate, despite the heartfelt way he approaches the world, is a novelty. When he’s told by fellow officers about plans to put pressure on the nomads in order to move them, The Magistrate laughs it off as if the guy had just told a joke. It’s sad that The Magistrate is such an anomaly, but it’s more sad that the game has clearly changed and he’s too clueless to get it. Any activist who has gotten into the fray will agree—such a lack of awareness to the problem at hand doesn’t help, and like with The Magistrate thinking that authoritarian forces will just stop and go home, it defeats one’s goals to be a good ally. 

The Magistrate’s affection for the nomads is more seriously, and sweetly expressed toward a blinded woman (Gana Bayarsaikhan) that he meets and cares for in a middle passage in the film. He is protective of her, especially as she details the cruelty she experienced. His reaction to her story is incredibly sensitive, and a bit staggering, but proves that he’s probably in the wrong line of work: “What do you feel toward the men who did this to you?” In scenes that continue to drag the story away from a tangible plot,

The Magistrate convoys through the desert to take her back to her people, giving cinematographer Chris Menges an opportunity to conjure some stunning vista shots, the most resonant feature of this handsome but often understated period piece. When The Magistrate returns, he sees that he has lost control; along with being called a traitor, he faces the implosion of all the good will he has built. 

Even worse than the Magistrate’s naïveté is the fact that he’s a less believable character than Depp’s cartoonish Colonel Joll. But the movie, which has J.M. Coetzee adapting the 1980 book he wrote, believes The Magistrate is a real person, and believes in what he believes, and thus places us in his world. The editing takes after The Magistrate’s contemplative and delicate mindset, while Rylance’s performance seems to have taken acting cues from Jesus Christ, especially when he speaks calmly in between gruesome punishment. You can admire what the movie and Rylance alike are doing, but the film continues to ring false. It’s not the nomads who are the barbarians, Guerra points out here, as like his previous time-spanning epics “Embrace of the Serpent” and “Birds of Passage,” which both depict brute modernity and indigenous cultures colliding at the intersection of survival. “Waiting for the Barbarians” would be a fitting title for a thesis about those recent films, so this movie should be a grand slam for the Colombian filmmaker working with his biggest production yet—instead it’s more revealing of how blunt his storytelling can be, and it’s almost as if having a larger budget and A-list cast has led him astray.

Just as much as Depp’s approach to tackling such text is to be a black highlighter, Rylance might have been too easy a casting choice—there is so little nuance, even though Rylance makes it clear from the start how unusually kind The Magistrate is. Rylance and Depp play broadly drawn characters who represent two extremes of an argument, with Rylance’s khaki uniform sharply contrasted with Depp’s dark blue.

Robert Pattinson is also in this movie, and appears in this review in a similar fashion: toward the end, and barely of any importance. He plays an assisting officer to Colonel Joll who sometimes scowls and sometimes screams, and does little else. Given that the film was shot in 2018, when Pattinson had plenty of screen clout, you’re not sure how much of his footage is on the cutting room floor. But there is a clear sense of the movie trying to squeeze him into shots with Depp, or include cutaways shots despite Pattinson having nothing to say. 

And yet giving approximately five minutes of screen-time to one of its biggest stars is not the worst way in which Guerra’s English-language debut defeats itself. This is a film that struggles to build an effective plot throughout its duration, with passages about scrounging for compassion in this fading world feeling as picturesque as they are hollow.The timely conversation topics are all there—the horrific act of othering, the damage of fear, the grave dehumanization that comes with lethal force—but “Waiting for the Barbarians” is too sentimental for the benefit of its larger ideas. Despite the sincerity that’s in every scene with Rylance’s performance, the movie’s good intentions remain wistful, and thoroughly frustrating.


  • Nick Allen   – Roger Ebert
  • Nick Allen is the Senior Editor at RogerEbert.com and a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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Waiting for the Barbarians (2019) Credits

Waiting for the Barbarians movie poster

Waiting for the Barbarians (2020)

Rated NR

114 minutes


Mark Rylance as The Magistrate

Johnny Depp as Colonel Joll

Robert Pattinson as Officer Mandel

Gana Bayarsaikhan as The Girl

Greta Scacchi as Mai

Sam Reid as The Lieutenant


  • Ciro Guerra

Writer (novel)

  • J.M. Coetzee


  • J.M. Coetzee


  • Chris Menges


  • Jacopo Quadri


  • Giampiero Ambrosi


Waiting for the Barbarians (2019) Plot

The Magistrate (Mark Rylance) manages an outpost on the desert frontiers of an unnamed Empire. His careful management has kept the peace for many years and there are only minor misunderstandings. All that changes with the arrival of Colonel Joll (Johnny Depp), who is acting as part of a mysterious plan set in motion by the centre of the empire.

The Magistrate tries his best but Colonel Joll remains antagonistic. Colonel Joll insists on interrogating an innocent man and his nephew for sheep rustling. Colonel Joll is determined to follow his process for getting the truth, which requires brutal torture. The Magistrate does not understand Joll, or his methods, or his goals. Colonel Joll then forces the tortured nephew to escort him and a detachment of soldiers to his tribe, where numerous women and elderly men are taken into custody as “prisoners of war”.

Colonel Joll departs the next day, which prompts the Magistrate to immediately release the prisoners and send them home. A few months later, a former prisoner with two broken ankles (Gana Bayarsaikhan) is seen panhandling in the streets. The Magistrate gives her food and shelter, and attempts to heal her broken ankles.

Some of the soldiers mistake this act of kindness for an act of lust, believing that the Magistrate intends to keep the girl as a concubine. The Magistrate learns of all the tortures and hardships the girl has gone through, including the death of her father. He asks her to stay at the fort, but promises to return her to her people if she does not wish to stay. The girl chooses the latter.

After a long and arduous journey through the desert, the Magistrate approaches the nomads in the mountains hoping to restore relations with them, but the nomads are upset and only the Magistrate’s reputation and the knowledge that he helped one of their own keeps the tribesmen from butchering him and his escorts. The Magistrate returns to find Officer Mandel (Robert Pattinson), Colonel Joll’s underling, has been assigned to command the fort. Officer Mandel immediately takes the Magistrate into custody, accuses him of treachery, and strips him of his office.

The Magistrate is eventually released, but when he tries to help “prisoners of war” being mistreated by Mandel’s soldiers, the soldiers beat and abuse him. He is then brought in for questioning and accused of consorting with the enemy for helping the nomad girl. The Magistrate is publicly shamed and has his home and possessions confiscated, while Colonel Joll departs with a large force to wipe out the mountain nomads. The Magistrate, now disheveled, poor, homeless, and ostracized by his countrymen, is taken in by one of his former servants (Greta Scacchi), who feeds and clothes him.

One morning, a horse carrying the corpse of one of Colonel Joll’s men walks into the fort. Officer Mandel walks away in fear and quickly resigns his command. The local imperial colonists feel betrayed and abandoned, fearing that the barbarians will take revenge on them without any soldiers to man the fort. As Officer Mandel and his men depart, the Magistrate takes advantage of the chaos to move back into his original home. Soon enough, Colonel Joll returns with only a handful of survivors.

The Magistrate goes to see a pensive and defeated Colonel Joll sitting in his carriage, seeming completely detached from reality while his soldiers hastily gather provisions and horses. As the colonists angrily pelt them with stones, the Colonel and his men depart the fort later that evening.

The Magistrate returns to a town bereft of young men, where boys play-pretend to stand guard around scarecrows dressed as soldiers by the gates of the fort. The movie closes with a shadow approaching the Magistrate standing alone in the courtyard, and a cloud of dust on the horizon – dust thrown up by an army of apparently nomadic warriors headed towards the fort.

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Waiting for the Barbarians (2019) Box office

By March 2021, the film grossed $764,815 in the worldwide box office.

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Waiting for the Barbarians (2019) Critical Response

Waiting for the Barbarians holds a 54% approval rating on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes based on 91 reviews with an average of 6/10. The website’s critics consensus reads: “Admirable in theory but disappointing in execution, Waiting for the Barbarians struggles to turn strong performances and worthy themes into affecting drama.” On Metacritic, the film holds a rating of 52 out of 100, based on 19 critics, indicating “mixed or average reviews”.


Waiting for the Barbarians (2019) Accolades

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Waiting for the Barbarians (2019) Movie Info

A local magistrate reevaluates his loyalty to his nation while holed up at a remote outpost.


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