A Sheep in Fox's Clothing
Never judge a book by its cover and never trust a DVD by its cover art. If you were to look at the cover art for "Deserter" it has a look of a low budget action movie, something that Van Damme might have starred in but here with a young Tom Hardy looking tough brandishing a gun against an explosive, war backdrop. It's deceptive on so many levels because whilst Tom Hardy has an important part he is not the star, "Deserter" is most definitely not some Van Damme style action movie and originally it was called "Simon: An English Legionnaire" which is actually a more descriptive title. I say that because "Deserter" is about a young Englishman called Simon who joins the French Foreign Legion and sent to Algeria during the decolonization war where he tries to work out where his loyalties lie, very different to what the cover art suggests.
After signing away the next 5 years of his life to the French Foreign Legion Simon Murray (Paul Fox) finds himself along with other new recruits sent to a training base in Algeria where he gets to know French-Algerian Pascal Dupont (Tom Hardy). Whilst very different the two bond as they work their way through the brutal and unrelenting training where only the toughest survive with Simon standing out as someone who unselfishly helps other recruits as they struggle. But as they complete their training and begin active service Simon finds himself torn to where his loyalties lie as he tries to grasp the argument from all sides, the French who own Algeria, the Algerians with their beautiful buildings wanting Independence, the French born Algerians who want it to stay French and of course the job of the Legionnaires especially when it appears they are going to be part of an attempted coup.
So this is how misleading that cover art for "Deserter" is because the movie is the story of Simon Murray and it is based on the real Simon Murray's years as a Legionnaire during the Algerian war. That is nothing like what the cover art suggests and whilst there are various moments of action be it during training or in battle what we really get is almost a journal of experiences.
Now those experiences start with the brutal way of life as a recruit in the French Foreign Legion and what we get for basically the first half is brutal training. And to be honest it is brutal as we see these young legionnaires beaten, kicked, drilled till they drop with anyone who dares try to desert dealt with in an even more brutal manner. It does mean that the first half is like so many army movies which feature military training but for a lesser known movie the brutality of it all rivals some of the better known movies.
What this first half does is build the important friendship between Simon and Pascal which is pivotal come the end of the movie. But what we get after all this training is Simon having to try and work out where his loyalties lie being an Englishman in a war which is not his own. For those who don't know the ins and outs of Algeria it doesn't do a great job of explaining them but you do get a sense that Simon basically struggles to take a side. There are some romantic elements thrown in as he meets the attractive Nicole and there is the certain mystery over a Jennifer who as we learn said no to a marriage proposal but they don't add much to this second half.
What this all means is that Paul Fox as Simon Murray is the focus of the movie and he does a decent job especially during the second half as he struggles with the situation from taking sides to actually killing Algerians. But you also have to mention a young Tom Hardy who whilst not the star delivers a really good performance full of arrogance as Pascal Dupont.
What this all boils down to is that "Deserter" is definitely not the movie which the cover art makes it out to be and if you expected an exciting action movie you are going to be really disappointed. But as a semi journal of an Englishman in the French Foreign Legion and in the middle of the Algerian war of Independence it is sort of interesting.