NEW YORK, May 4 (Reuters) Donald Sutherland has played plenty of bad guys in his time and in his new film ''Land of the Blind'' he gets to explore the roots of evil and how the victim can become the tyrant and torturer.
The political satire, which had its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival this week, stars Sutherland as an imprisoned playwright who convinces a soldier, played by Ralph Fiennes, to help assassinate a tyrannical dictator in an unnamed country.
After the dictator is dead and Sutherland's group take power, the revolution turns sour and Fiennes's character ends up imprisoned for refusing to swear loyalty to the new regime.
The revolutionaries send intellectuals for re-education in internment camps and enforce such bizarre laws as one endorsing vegetarianism.
Alluding to historical examples from the French revolution to Romania, North Korea, Iran, the Soviet Union, Haiti, Cuba and Northern Ireland, the film blends absurd satire with dark scenes of torture, violence and summary executions.
Fiennes plays the decent soldier in ''Land of the Blind'' but he too has played his share of bad guys, notably a Nazi officer in ''Schindler's List.'' 'PSYCHOTIC MENTALITY' ''What's important is to see why these people come into being and what makes a society produce that sort of psychotic mentality,'' he told a news conference.
Sutherland, who is first seen in the film battered and bedraggled in a prison cell with slogans smeared in excrement on the walls, said it was important to ask what drives people to evil, and to realise that perceptions of evil vary.
''People like Mohammed Atta, in this country, you describe him as evil, but to many people he was heroic in his decision to fly those planes into the World Trade Center,'' Sutherland said, referring to one of the September 11 hijackers.
Fiennes said ''Land of the Blind'' was the latest in a string of political films directly related to current crises.
''You're seeing a number of films with a clear political content because ... film is a strong medium, because it gets inside people's heads like nothing else,'' he said. ''9/11 sort of swung the whole world into another sense of awareness.'' He expressed frustration about problems in places as varied as Uzbekistan, Iraq, Darfur, Russia and even Britain, which is introducing security measures human rights campaigners fear will curtail civil liberties.
''This is really scary, this is really urgent,'' Fiennes said. ''It's time to get angry ... For the first time in my life I feel the world is getting dangerously unhinged.'' Sutherland said there was a complacency in America and he feared audiences were not open enough to political films.
Made in London with a budget of 10 million dollars, the film opens in New York in June and the distributor is hoping word of mouth will push it wider, as there is little budget for publicity.
REUTERS KD HT1025