A new movie starring Johnny Depp, Robert Pattinson and Mark Rylance should be a big deal. Depp and Pattinson are bona fide A-listers and the Academy Award-winning Rylance is considered one of the finest actors working today. And yet, Waiting for the Barbarians, a big budget period piece from Colombian filmmaker Ciro Guerra based on a novel by highly praised writer J.M. Coetzee, is confirmed to be coming straight-to-VOD on August 7th.
We got our first look at a trailer yesterday, which gave us an outline of the plot. From what we understand, Rylance’s Magistrate is tasked with keeping peace in a distant desert frontier (the film is shot in Morocco), only for Johnny Depp’s Colonel to arrive warning of impending doom at the hands of invading barbarians. Rylance’s Magistrate favors a soft-touch and Depp’s Colonel engages in torture to achieve his ends – conflict is inevitable.
Waiting for the Barbarians premiered at the Venice Film Festival and screened at the London Film Festival in 2019. Critics who saw it are split, with the movie sitting at 50% on the Tomatometer. While most of them praise the film’s ambition and epic desert cinematography that recalls Lawrence of Arabia, they say the writing lets the pic down, with a lack of nuance in the script confusing the message.
So, why is it going straight to VOD? Well, the obvious answer is because of Coronavirus, which has shut down most domestic theaters. The thing is, though, a lot of big movies have simply been delayed rather than cancelled, so if the studio had confidence in Waiting for the Barbarians, they’d have kicked the can down the road until the Fall.
My bet is that they’ve quietly realized this isn’t going to be the awards-winning blockbuster they’d hoped for and have decided that this is the best route to get it out there and make some of that budget back. But I’m going to reserve judgment until I’ve seen it. The cast is impressive and the trailer looks extremely cool. Roll on August 7th.