1995 Directed by Michael Caton-Jones. Starring Liam Neeson, Jessica Lange, John Hurt, Tim Roth, Eric Stoltz, Brian Cox, Andrew Keir.
REVIEWED By Hollis Chacona, Fri., April 7, 1995
A sweeping view of the majestic, rugged Highlands; a band of kilted, weathered Scots emerging from the swirling mist; a spine-tingling crescendo of music. So opens, auspiciously enough, Michael Caton-Jones' tale of folk hero Rob Roy, the bigger-than-life legend who battled dishonor and injustice in 18th-century Scotland. With long hair blowing in the chill Highland wind, a swath of MacGregor tartan flung over his shoulder, and sword clattering above his bruised and mud-streaked knees, Liam Neeson fills the kilt of the giant MacGregor (not to mention the big screen) with born-to-it aplomb. Countering Neeson's quietly formidable Rob is the evil dandy, Cunningham (brilliantly portrayed by Tim Roth), whose effeminate posturing cloaks a deadly efficacy with blades. His greedy, simpering duplicity and fancy pastel frocks clash in consummate contrast with Rob's stoic sense of honor and tattered tartans. Unfortunately, not even the trenchant battle between these exceptional players can compete with the conflict inherent in the film itself. Part historical narrative, part epic romance, and part swashbuckling adventure, Rob Roy is overly cultivated, resulting in a stiff, unnatural hybrid that's quite lovely to look at, but lacks spontaneity. If you're going to tinker with the conventions of a genre (or two, or three), you'd better do it with verve and wit -- two elements missing from Rob Roy. With the tantalizing lure of a sensational cast, a spectacular setting and 300 years of mythic history, this picture just never delivers the style and action our senses crave. With its familiar story of bad guys riding roughshod over hapless peasants, it might seem as though Rob Roy would have benefited from the framework of another genre entirely. But then again, probably not. For though Neeson stands as tall and shoots as straight as the Duke ever did and the shrouded crags boast a strength and beauty as ancient and daunting as any monolith in Monument Valley, Michael Caton-Jones (Memphis Belle, Doc Hollywood, This Boy's Life) is, alas, no John Ford.