Synopsis: Desperate to return home to his daughter in the final days of World War II, a German deserter finds himself caught in a battle against SS troops on a mission to uncover hidden gold.
Stars: Robert Maaser, Alexander Scheer, Marie Hacke, Jördis Triebel, Stephan Grossmann, Florian Schmidtke, Petra Zieser, Gisela Aderhold, Jochen Nickel, Simon Rupp, Roy McCrerey
Director: Peter Thorwarth
Running Length: 100 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: As summer draws near, it’s not uncommon to find movies with similar themes competing for the attention of a target audience. From Deep Impact and Armageddon to Volcano and Dante’s Peak, studios have shown they aren’t willing to blink when standing behind their features and hoping their project will emerge victorious for box office totals. Making money is one thing, but it’s sticking in the mind of viewers that counts. Plenty of people remember Armageddon over its crashing comet rival, while I’m not sure if anyone is rushing to defend with Volcano or Dante’s Peak (tough call…I give the edge to Dante’s Peak, though, for the love of Linda Hamilton).
There’s a new face-off happening in 2023, albeit on a smaller scale, but it’s interesting to look at the similarities in subject matter between the two. After all, who could have predicted two riffs on the spaghetti western emerging from the foreign market set in the final days of WWII, pitting a gold-hungry evil Nazi SS squad against an opponent they initially underestimated? Barely a month after the gonzo glory of Finland’s Sisu zipped into theaters, another punchy action film is arriving on Netflix via Germany. While Blood & Gold may lay out a familiar mission, it goes about things in its original way.
Strung up from a tree and cruelly left for dead by a group of Nazi soldiers led by von Starnfeld (Alexander Scheer), German deserter Heinrich’s (Robert Maaser, 1917) last thoughts are of his wife and son killed in the war and the young daughter he was trying to get back to. Before the lights can completely fade, he’s saved by Elsa (Marie Hacke), who lives on her family farm close by with brother Paule (Simon Rupp) while they wait for the war to cease and her fiancé to return.
As Elsa tends to Heinrich’s wounds, the Nazis continue toward a neighboring town they have targeted for a specific reason. They have intel that leads them to believe a significant stash of gold has been hidden, left behind by a Jewish family that the Nazi-sympathizing town leaders ousted before they were sent to the concentration camps. As the war concludes and allegiances are sketchy, amassing riches is the priority for the greedy, disfigured von Starnfeld and his wicked Sergeant (Roy McCrerey, All the Money in the World). There’s one problem; no one knows where the gold is. Or if they do (and they do), they aren’t going to give it up so easily.
The next ninety minutes of Stefan Barth’s twist-filled script has plenty of surprises for the viewer, with the unpredictable subplot of the missing gold being the frothy icing on top of this German chocolate cake. Whereas Sisu primarily showed how one man could take on many, director Peter Thorwarth keeps numerous plates spinning simultaneously as Nazis and corrupt townsfolk get what’s coming to them in gruesomely staged battles. Even more than Sisu, Blood & Gold draws much inspiration from the tone and style of Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds without becoming an outright copy of what that much-cited film achieved.
A former stuntman, Maaser isn’t always the most compelling lead dramatically but does make for a solid knuckle-crunching action star, and that’s what he’s called on most to do. The dramatic heft of the movie rests with Hacke as a woman who survived the war, saw further trauma, and isn’t about to let these Nazi infiltrators make off with any reward for their crimes. Balancing hard-edged action with sensitivity keeps her performance and others around her grounded most splendidly. Several supporting characters that fill out the town are either comically arch or mustache-twirlingly evil – and both approaches work for the mood.
Thorwarth’s last film was the deliriously good and impressively cinematic Blood Red Sky which could have quickly been released in theaters. That vampire on a plane movie kept building and building to a gnashing, gnawing frenzy, almost to the point where it was too much to take without standing up and pacing around (maybe it was good to watch it at home, after all?). Still, Blood & Gold takes a more metered approach to its suspense and lets things rise at a more natural boil. It manages to peak at the right moments, and while I thought it had one or two more endings than it needed, it’s impossible to leave unsatisfied.