Clive Owen plays Max, a loose, carefree, and cowardly playboy who is captured by Nazis along with his gay partner and shipped off to the Dachau labor camp. He pretends to be in the yellow star unit meaning that he is Jewish instead of the pink triangle unit meaning that he is gay. But he meets a member of the pink triangle named Horst who he befriends and begins developing feelings for as they work day after day moving rocks from one place to another. The film is based on a play of the same name that gained much critical acclaim and won many awards.
The easiest way to look at this film is as a message film, with the message being to always stay true to who you are and to be strong of the community that you represent. The film nails this concept pretty much about as solidly as a message film ever could. Unfortunately, the film fails to rise above that. It fails to both entertain or to intrigue. The film feels blatant and obvious in it’s storytelling, and as a result it loses the sincerity that it requires to work as a film. The film caters to it’s target audience and does nothing to spark the audience’s interest in the characters themselves. As a result, you never really care about the main character Max, nor do you care about anyone else in this picture. The film, instead, romanticizes the situation. It becomes a celebration of sexuality rather than humanity. The film opens with an orgy and several gay sex scenes, all directed with the intention of pleasing the audience, and then it dissolves into English soap opera territory before jarringly throwing the audience into the horrific atmosphere of the death camps. Even when we are in the death camps, however, the film doesn’t really try to build any sympathy or character. We empathize somewhat with the plight of Max and the terrible things that he is put through, but we don’t really see any reason to care more or less about his character or his choice of actions.
Things only get more and more ludicrous as the film continues. There’s a sexual torture scene on the way to the camp, the endless scenes of sexual tension between the men at the camp, the many many moments of bland atmosphere in which there is no dialogue. All these scenes are well done, but none of them add anything to either the characters, the situations, the theme of the film, or the plot. All exist only for the audience’s enjoyment. This film could have been just as effective without these scenes, which only increase the running time of the film. There are scenes that come off so stagey that it becomes cringe-inducing. There’s even a scene of gun violence that feels extremely prepared and strangely very choreographed in a ridiculously blatant way. In addition, the continuity falls apart as well. The shooting scene results in a character’s death, yet there are no bullet holes or blood on his clothing. To make things worse, a character puts the dean person’s clothes on himself and ends up making the goof even more obvious than it already is. This film is a mess!
Bent is a failure of a film. I appreciate what Sean Mathias was trying to do, but he really mishandles it. There are some things that work, and those things are mostly in the early scenes. There is an early scene involving Mick Jagger, in a top-notch performance as a drag queen, that is pretty cool. Ian McKellen makes a brief appearance as well, and I found his character to be more interesting than anyone else in the film. The performances aren’t bad. There is some decent scenery. The music score is somewhat memorable. The scenes on the train are really harrowing. The film isn’t horribly made, but there’s really no reason for me to recommend it. I understand that this film has somewhat of a following in the queer cinema realm, but I’ve never really liked most of those films anyway. Just do yourself a favor and skip this one. It really isn’t any good at all. I think that this kind of story can be told successfully, but this isn’t worth seeing.