Queen of the Desert, 2015.
Written and Directed by Werner Herzog.
Starring Nicole Kidman, James Franco, Damian Lewis, Robert Pattinson, Christopher Fulford, Mark Lewis Jones, Assaad Bouab, Jenny Agutter, Jay Abdo, and David Calder
A chronicle of Gertrude Bell’s life, a traveler, writer, archaeologist, explorer, cartographer, and political attaché for the British Empire at the dawn of the twentieth century.
Movies right here like Queen of the Desert are why directors such as Quentin Tarantino have stated they’re entering retirement after a set number of films. Werner Herzog (who wrote and directed the film) is obviously one of the most revered and iconic filmmakers of all time, but there comes a point where you lose your touch and start pumping out junk. Furthermore, no one wants to see prestigious directors churning out terrible offerings that are slight blemishes on an otherwise outstanding resume.
It’s a shame Queen of the Desert turned out to be such a sandstorm, because the subject of the film in British traveler, writer, archaeologist, explorer, cartographer and political officer Gertrude Bell is ripe with potential to mean something profound in an age where women are increasingly getting more opportunities and equality. Played by Nicole Kidman, the film opens with Gertrude’s family unimpressed that she is not interested in tying the knot, and her showing a headstrong independent personality seeking a greater purpose in life. This is all at the turn of the 20th century, so she’s way ahead of her time breaking the mold of what a woman can accomplish.
And then James Franco pops into the movie making a bunch of weird, goofy shit-eating grin faces, overacting like crazy and doing magic card tricks that somehow make Gertrude stop dead in her tracks about the ambitious direction of her life. He’s not even in the movie very long, but from here it becomes clear that Herzog is going to focus the plot on all of the different love interests Gertrude has had throughout the course of her existence. Sure, there is some exploring in between that showcasing her divine powers at bringing peace to a given situation in the Middle East, ending on a bunch of cliff notes detailing some mighty impressive achievements that all sound like they would have made for a far more engaging narrative to watch unfold, but it’s mostly interactions with different partners. To make things worse, when couples aren’t on-screen, Gertrude is often shown writing with a voiceover spouting the most cheesy romantic nonsense; it’s like I had somehow turned on one of those really bad Matthew McConaughey romance films from the early 2000s.
Robert Pattinson also plays T.E. Lawrence and looks utterly ridiculous doing so. He also doesn’t emote very well, and is about as charismatic as a cardboard box. Who knew so many attractive people got together to change history?! Acting complaints aside, Queen of the Desert is astoundingly boring, never once finding chemistry or worthwhile discussion between any of its characters. Every dilemma is resolved minutes after it begins. There is no danger, no complex character to dissect, nothing. Admittedly, the movie is pretty to look at featuring a number of exotic locations to behold with some nice shot composition, but that doesn’t change the fact that every minute of this movie that passed felt like a victory in life.
It really does kind of sting absolutely trashing a Werner Herzog film this badly, but it is a catastrophic disaster. Reading about Gertrude Bell on Wikipedia is infinitely more entertaining, and does more justice to her importance to society more than Queen of the Desert. It also doesn’t help that this biopic is a life chronicle, as not centering on one specific area of a historical figure’s life usually results in an aimless mess that is unable to find a voice for whatever it wants to say.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★