I don’t know him from the deli counter checkout guy, but Billy Zane just exudes entitled luckiness — the charmed air of a rakish guy who’s scooted by on chiseled good looks and little more, and managed to consistently fail upward, into what I imagine is a pretty comfortable lifestyle. He looks like a Tag Heuer model or perhaps a cigar company spokesman, and if he’s not busy floating through Twin Peaks‘ second season or being a jerk to Kate Winslet in Titanic, he’s bedding C-level starlets and Croatian models in smirking fashion, and fleecing and subsequently getting sued by Uwe Boll. (I’m not sure whom to root for in that latter contretemps.)
The latest piece of screen entertainment onto which Zane alights is The Hessen Conspiracy, a wan World War II flick and self-described neo-noir thriller that fancies itself a sort of swashbuckling cross between The Good German and some long-lost Indiana Jones adventure. Based on supposedly true events, it unfolds in Frankfurt in 1945. The war has been lost for Germany, and its citizens are restless, resentful, suspicious — and thus often ready to make a deal on the black market, trading in secrets that will benefit their families and themselves.
Outside the city is a large manse, Castle Kronberg, which serves as a country club of sorts for swaggering, victorious American officers. Colonel Jack Durant (Zane) and the beautiful Lieutenant Kathleen Nash (Lyne Renée) have no problem taking advantage of the situation. But when they discover a cache of priceless gems — crown jewels of Germany, Prussian riches that rival anything found in the Tower of London — the renegades must step out of their comfort zone into one of greed and danger. Traveling to New York to seeking a fence for their dazzling, dangerous steal, they get caught up in a web of spies, gangsters, royalty, millionaires and other rogue Army officers. Before long, they begin to distrust even one another.
The Hessen Conspiracy is scripted by Nicholas Meyer and Ronald Roose, and directed by Paul Breuls, and it unfolds in an entirely professional if overly self-serious manner. The production design work here, by Paul Peters, is actually fairly solid for such a modestly budgeted flick. The dialogue has little snap, though, and the performances are these airless, joyless things — partitioned off from one another, and with little sense of either fun interplay or sincere imperilment. For a movie that is about a jewel heist, however rooted in historical context, that is damning.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, The Hessen Conspiracy comes to DVD presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, with English SDH subtitles and a Dolby digital 5.1 audio track. Apart from chapter stops, special bonus features consist of… nothing. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. D+ (Movie) D (Disc)