Since the “Twilight” franchise made him an international star three years ago, Pattinson has focused his career on a string of indie flicks.
He’s starred in films such as “Cosmopolis,” “Water for Elephants,” “Bel Ami,” “The Rover,” “Maps of he Stars” and now “Queen of the Desert.”
But following his passion to work with the best directors in meaningful, if small, pictures has produced a string of marginal work. None have come close to the success he achieved in the teen vampire flicks.
“Queen of the Desert” was entered in the main competition section of the 65th Berlin International Film Festival, and premiered today (Feb.6). Although it has been lightly reviewed so far, early reports are giving it a thumbs down.
“Werner Herzog may have made a few bad films, but he has never made an uninteresting one. He comes damn close, however, with “Queen of the Desert,” wrote Jessica Kiang for The Playlist.
“[It] does not deserve the outright trashing that can be felt brewing in the Berlinale air, but also can’t be classed as anything other than a disappointment,” she adds.
Indeed, the disappointment is palpable given the richness of the story and the strength of the larger-than-life characters, who are based on the lives of some of history’s most intriguing individuals.
The focus of the film is Gertrude Bell, (Kidman) a fearless and forceful woman who plunged into the Byzantine world of the Ottoman Empire as it was disintegrating leading up to and during World War I.
She was a writer, political operative, archaeologist and spy. Next to T.E. Lawrence (Pattinson), she helped shape British policy that led to the creation of Syria and Iraq.
Franco plays an equally colorful character, Henry Cadogan, the British legation secretary, who was one of Bell’s lovers.
“This is a woman who has a very complex, very beautiful inner life, and two tragic love stories,” Herzog told reporters at the Berlin film festival. “It’s about solitude, the tragedy of love and longing.”
Herzog was clearly shooting for “sweep” to help the film measure up to the story. But most of the heat from critics is aimed at the iconic German director for failing to live up to the material.
Mark Adams, chief film critic for ScreenDaily, calls the film a “plodding melodrama” with “often dull dialogue.”
“While enjoyable in parts, its episodic pacing lets down the real-life story of a bold and remarkable woman,” he adds.
Herzog clearly loves both his actress and his subject, to the point of allowing no blemish to show in Bell, and no unflattering shadow to fall across the face of his leading lady. It’s such a disappointment when you consider the wild portraits of pioneers that Herzog has given us before, that he’s so reverent here. Isn’t he the director who can locate the madness in everything he sees? Where is Bell’s madness?
Among trade rags, Variety’s Chief International Film Critic Peter Debruge also gave it a thumb’s down.
“’Queen of the Desert’ looks and feels big enough for megaplex play, yet lacks the central dramatic conflict that drove ‘The English Patient’ and ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ to such mainstream success,” he writes.
He notes that guffaws broke out in Berlin when both Franco and Pattinson appeared on-screen for the first time, looking out-of-character in their period costumes.
Pattinson’s part is small in the picture, so he doesn’t deserve the blame if the epic flops. Still, it’s another role that will be less than memorable for the “Twilight” star.
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