Dateline: 1400 … something. The Ottoman Empire is on the rise, and it's the Greeks who pay the price with their blood. Many would prefer to just plain die rather than cow to the Sultan's whims, and so many do. But not young Anna Christina (Tania Raymonde), who is allowed to live by Tariq (Jan Uddin, Day of the Falcon), a leader in the Sultan's bloodthirsty army with a fun little kindness streak he whips out from time to time when it suits the narrative of the movie. Their lives change forever.
Twelve years go by, and Anna Christina's little village rebuilds as it can. Sadly, though, the Turks become omnipresent—but this births a secret order of rebels who do stuff from the shadows. Anna Christina hits her 20s, and along with what's left of her family, she ekes out a simple agrarian lifestyle under the thumb of Sunal Demir (Raza Jaffrey of Homeland), leader of the janissaries (like the Turkish army's cops, basically), that same nice dude Tariq from before and Billy freaking Zane, who plays a Greek who goes the traitor route out of some weird sense of self-preservation (read: cowardice).
Everything would've been fine—I mean, mostly—except Sunal Demir likes killing Greek people all willy-nilly, which he does, and Anna Christina goes full-on rebel in an attempt to get revenge. Also, she might have a thing for Tariq. Also, Christopher Plummer is in this movie but wildly underused; also Kevin Corrigan (Grounded for Life), one of the most under-appreciated actors of our time, is in there; also Patty Lupone. OK? OK.
Cliffs of Freedom gets big-time points for some gorgeous moments of cinematography. With New Mexico standing in for the rolling, arid hillsides of Greece's farmlands, it's hard not to love those skies. It's clear this wasn't a huge-budget affair but, despite some very strange ADR choices that makes one wonder if any dialogue was filmed during principal photography whatsoever, director/writer Van Ling (previously primarily a visual effects guy from movies like Starship Troopers and T2) does a lot with what he's got. There's romance in them thar hills, and we'll hand it to Uddin for portraying a quiet vulnerability that almost distracts us from how improbable it is that an army guy who never seems to fight anyone could rise to an officer's position. Regardless, if you can make it past the snail's pace of the first act, there's plenty to enjoy in subsequent sections.
As a first foray into direction and screenwriting, Ling proves capable, and performances are serviceable throughout. It does, however, seem like none of the leads are particularly thrilled to be there. Like, you can almost feel them not trying very hard—particularly Billy Zane who, I guess, is now just going to play spineless chumps forever and ever. But, when taken as a bit of historical fiction interwoven with light elements of action and adventure, Cliffs of Freedom is actually a fun little romp. Plus, Anna Christina is seriously badass.
+Quite pretty at times; Anna Christina rules
-Billy freaking Zane; overall, feels amateur-ish
Cliffs of Freedom
Directed by Ling
With Redmonde, Uddin, Jaffrey, Zane, Plummer, Corrigan and Lupone
Jean Cocteau Cinema, R, 137 min.