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 is a 2019 action drama film directed by Ciro Guerra in his English-language directorial debut. The film is based on the 1980 novel of the same name by J. M. Coetzee. It stars Mark Rylance, Johnny Depp, Robert Pattinson, Gana Bayarsaikhan, and Greta Scacchi.
The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival on September 6, 2019. It was released on August 7, 2020, by Samuel Goldwyn Films. It received a lukewarm critical response.
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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.
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.
Waiting for the Barbarians (2019) Credits
Waiting for the Barbarians (2020)
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
- 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.
Waiting for the Barbarians (2019) Box office
By March 2021, the film grossed $764,815 in the worldwide box office.
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”.
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