'Waiting for the Barbarians' Review With Casey
Waiting for the Barbarians is a historical period drama based on the award-winning novel of the same name by South African writer J.M. Coetzee first published in 1980. This newly released film (premiered on August 7th) tells the story of a Magistrate, played by a soft-spoken and dignified Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies, 2015), who manages a small settlement in a foreign, quiet desert on the far edge of an unnamed empire (presumably the British Empire).
But when a Colonel from the Empire, played by a stoically sinister Johnny Depp (Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, 2018), arrives at the settlement to investigate vague suspicions of uprising from the nomadic natives, the Magistrate starts to question his loyalty to the Empire he serves.
Waiting for the Barbarians could have been riveting and layered, but it felt tedious and monotonous because the directing was so narrow and heavy-handed. The dialogue is so plain, and the story structure is so lethargic, the film felt like a remedial academic instruction on domination vs. diplomacy. Yes! We know! Blind violence is bad and nurturing care is good. Yes! We know! Colonialism is oppressive and condescending but respecting foreign peoples is morally right.
This film simply doesn't show anything inventive, emotionally deep, or effectively crafted to be memorable. All the actors clearly work hard in their respective roles, and some of the desert landscape is shot beautifully. But a film about such serious, global, and prescient political issues needs to offer a narrative that's more energetically tenacious. An engaging film should be like a dynamic journey and not a prosaic funeral.