By Owen Gleiberman
April 14, 1995 at 04:00 AM EDT
type
  • Movie
Genre

Any doubts about how sexy Liam Neeson is going to look in a kilt are dispelled by the opening scene of ROB ROY (United Artists, R): He looks fantastic in a kilt, towering and virile yet soft, too, his Jesus-length hair caressing his shoulders, his venerable plaid garment, with its matching sash, taking on the effect of a royal cape. Is there an actor alive with the soulful physicality, the resplendent masculine force, of Liam Neeson? Here, as in Schindler’s List, he’s a lion of a man, all strut and vision, invincible in his grandeur. (He may be the new Sean Connery.) Yet don’t write off the fashionable semiotic effect of that ”skirt,” either. Neeson’s Robert Roy MacGregor, known as Rob Roy, is the mythical hero of Scottish folklore, an 18th-century clan leader who presides over a community of tenant farmers. He’s a man who believes in the primacy of honor as much as he believes in his own life. Still, he’s no stony island. His strength derives in part from how deeply he loves and reveres his wife, Mary (Jessica Lange), a redheaded lass every bit as spirited and intransigent as he is. Neeson plays Rob Roy as a new breed of macho domestic warrior. Like Harvey Keitel in The Piano, he displays an unabashed sensitivity to women, a quality that bespeaks his ”feminine” side. And what is sure to make the character popular (especially among women) is that you can read his empathic romantic nature right there in his image-the flowing, stud-hippie-of-the-Highlands look that Neeson wears like a righteous prince. Rob Roy is a rousingly square romantic epic spiced with dashes of sex and bloodlust; it’s Robin Hood meets The Last of the Mohicans meets Death Wish. Much of the film’s appeal, though, lies in the fact that the audience can size up just about everyone on screen simply by checking out his hair. Poised against Rob Roy and his curly-locked comrades are the royal fops- decadent English schemers, all powdered and peruked, who carry on in the vain, bored tones of villains in old Hollywood costume epics, the ones who (it was always implied) were effete homosexuals. Chief among the evil wig men is Archibald Cunningham (Tim Roth), a grotesquely cultivated dandy who, beneath his flowery exterior, turns out to be a brilliant swordsman-and a complete sociopath. This is a real hambone of a role, and Roth, a twitch of contempt dancing on his lips, makes the most of Cunningham’s moues and bows, his showboating loathsomeness, and the casual evil that lies beneath them. He’s like the Artist formerly known as Prince playing Richard III. When Rob Roy arranges to borrow 1,000 pounds from the marquis of Montrose (John Hurt), who owns the land on which the MacGregor clan lives, Cunningham, acting on a tip, steals the money from Rob Roy’s trusted comrade (Eric Stoltz). But rather than scrape and truckle to the marquis’ demands for repayment, Rob Roy insults him, turning himself into an outlaw. Cunningham then leads a terrorist assault on the MacGregor village, which is where things really get nasty. Rob Roy follows a fairly predictable dramatic arc. The film could have used more surprises, keener battle scenes, a springier pace. The director, Michael Caton-Jones, keeps using fateful bagpipe music to build to fireworks that don’t quite arrive (at least, not often enough). Yet if Caton-Jones is something less than an action-movie wizard, he has the right temperament, the slightly stolid middlebrow romanticism, to bring a shining-knight fairy tale alive. The heart of Rob Roy is the passionate interplay between Neeson and Lange, and the two are superb together. Their scenes give off a touching erotic glow; you couldn’t begin to separate the MacGregors’ lusty ardor from their devotion to each other. When Mary becomes an aggrieved victim, Lange’s acting turns startlingly powerful. She reveals not just the distress you expect but a fervid strength, an understanding of her husband’s code of honor that is deep enough to tap a hidden core of rue. And Lange’s performance finds its analogue in Neeson’s climactic duel with Roth, which is no fleet swashbuckler but a fierce, bloody, knockdown affair, pitting Cunningham’s superior finesse against Rob Roy’s grinding moral will. This is the kind of sword fight in which the action has true emotional force, and it helps make Rob Roy that rarity, an old-fashioned entertainment you can actually believe in. B+

type
  • Movie
Genre
mpaa
  • R
director
Performers
Complete Coverage
Advertisement

Comments

EDIT POST