An interesting if not particularly exciting courtroom drama, “Blood Oath” looks at the Ambon Island Japanese war crime trials in a very straightforward way which throws you right into the thick of things, but has little action outside the courtroom.
Brown has always been a good character actor but as the lead he’s surprisingly not that involving – he’s too grating a performer unfortunately, which means the ‘toughness’ required for the role is believable but he’s also intimidating to the point of quite unlikeable. Crowe is also surprisingly unremarkable in his film debut, mostly because he has maybe 2-3 lines of very ordinary dialogue to deliver – the mark of stardom doesn’t seem to shine on that 26-year-old baby face of his.
Proving more dynamic is actress Deborah Unger, best known for her roles in various US films like “The Game” so its odd to see her deep American voice replaced with a high pitched Aussie accent (in actuality she’s Canadian). Polson, in a small role as a shell shocked key witness also has a powerful moment (funny to see him and Crowe together half a decade before their work together as two young gay men in “The Sum of Us”).
Also quite comical to see now famous actors in key roles – comedian John Clarke (TV’s “The Games”) to American actor Terry o’Quinn (TV’s “Millenium”), and singer/dance club doorstop Jason Donovan. Takei sadly is little more than a cameo as an emotionally cold fish in the opening few minutes.
The direction has its moments, certainly some scenes are shot with great care and the flashback torture scenes proving the most effective (esp. a tense and graphic execution by sword sequence) but the trial itself is done in a cliched way. The focus does explore the other side of the argument decently with the Japanese characters and their arguments/backgrounds getting decent airplay.
That comes at the expense though of an aborted storyline about an American officer’s attempt to influence events, whilst supporting characters like Crowe or Donovan probably had more scenes but were cut to become nothing more than quiet background extras. The locale has an authentic and downtrodden feel, but the atmosphere isn’t well conveyed and the score rather lacklustre. Still, its a film more of promise rather than accomplishment. The seeds are here for a classic which didn’t germinate.