Based on the novel of the same by J. M. Coetzee, Waiting For The Barbarians is one of the recent italian productions made with the international market in mind, with Robert Pattinson….but also Johnny Depp, who is still getting work, despite everything.
Let’s leave it at that for the sake of the review, ok?
Taking place in an indefined frontier outpost near the border of an unknown empire (even though they look like british frontier soldiers), the movie follows the story of the Magister, who is close to retirement as Colonel Joll arrives, tasked with security and gathering intel on the “barbarians”. But as he outrights searches these people to capture and torture them in public,tries to stir a full-out war, the Magister has second thoughts, gets accused of treason, etc.
And it’s a frustrating one to review, because there is ambition, the cast is good (mostly), but the movie isn’t as “deep” as it thinks, it’s a story about “the horrors of war and the monstrous need for an enemy to exist”, that is obvious right away, for every character in the movie… beside the protagonist, the Magistrate, who seems to be surprised by anything that happens, and makes you wonder how he can possibly be so absurdly naive.
Way more than he’s intended to be, to the point of it being laughably cartoonish and dissonant with the otherwise more realistic scenes of torture, corruption and.. well anything. And the movie is also slowly paced, like its main protagonist it spends ages yet again re-iterating on the beyond obvious messages and themes. Doesn’t help that Depp also plays a cartoonish “nazi frontier general” villain, even more caricatural than usual.
Shame, because it has some inspired moments, it really does, but in the end it’s kind of a mess.