During the 16th century, Michael Kohlhaas (Mads Mikkelsen) is a horse-trader ready for confrontation. In his sights is the local land Baron (Swann Arlaud) who has repeatedly cheated him out of his rights. Finding little solace in the courts, Kohlhaas continues fighting for justice. As the personal tolls mounts, those dear to him are placed in danger. Seeking vengeance, Kohlhaas vows to ensure his enemies learn he is someone never to be crossed.
Based on a novel, Michael Kohlhaas is a searing tale of revenge. Using a strict moral code, Kohlhaas rallies people to his growing cause. How his hatred consumes him also forces him to question his beliefs. While doing so the consequences of his blind fury become readily apparent. These elements are strikingly conveyed by director Arnaud des Pallieres who uses the vistas of the Cevennes mountains to spectacular effect.
Pallieres also teases out the drama and tension with ease. He is aided by Mikkelsen who gives an excellent performance as an emotionally conflicted man. His character’s unbending righteousness is given added nuance due to Mikkelsen’s skills in studied menace. The screenplay generally maintains momentum despite its intermittent meandering. Sometimes the editing does no favours as the narrative jumps around making things somewhat difficult to follow, but the classic good vs evil motif is well realised as it shows not everyone’s actions aren’t so clear cut.
Making good use of the desolate locales, Michael Kohlhaas succeeds in conjuring another era. The passionate hatred Kohlhaas feels as he walks amongst the mountains also proves learning forgiveness can reap better rewards than hollow retribution.
Reviewed by Patrick Moore
Rating out of 10: 7