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Rob Roy
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by Andrew Howe

"Liam Neeson and the Art of the Charisma Bypass"
2 stars

We only needed one film about a Scottish hero in 1995, and Mel gave it to us in spades. In this instance, two is definitely a crowd.

"Mrs. Jones, take a memo if you please. Address it to 'To Whomever Gives A Damn.' Title of memo is 'All-Time Great Screen Villains'. List the following: Lee Van Cleef in The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, Alan Rickman in Die Hard, Lionel Barrymore in It's A Wonderful Life, Albert Spica in The Cook, The Thief, The Wife And Her Lover, Joe Pesci in GoodFellas (Wassat? You don't think he was meant to be a villain? What, were we supposed to admire the scumbag? How'd you like to meet him in a dark alleyway tonight after work? ), and Anthony Hopkins in The Silence Of The Lambs. Oh, and Ralph Fiennes in Schindler's List. I think that should do it. Make two copies ... what is it now? You think I should have included Tim Roth in Rob Roy? Well, gee, I don't know if he was an all-time great, but he certainly came close, didn't he? "

You know you're in whole mess of trouble when the villains turn out to be more interesting than the hero. I think the whole problem with Rob Roy came to me during the climactic duel between Rob and Tim Roth's cretinous British aristocrat. This flash of inspiration occurred when I realised that I wanted Tim Roth to win, and the problem goes by the name of Liam Neeson.

Spot quiz - name the film which made Liam Neeson famous. If you didn't answer Schindler's List, you may turn in your membership to the Movie Buff's Society now. Spot quiz part II - name another movie in which Liam Neeson appeared prior to 1995.

I could answer Excalibur (as Sir Gawain), and I only know that because it was pointed out to me after Schindler's List was released. He also played a member of the IRA in the Mickey Rourke vehicle A Prayer For The Dying, and that's about the limit of my knowledge on the subject. I would posit, however, that the reason I cannot quote his filmography verbatim is not because he hasn't been in many movies, but rather because he possesses the charisma of a day old tea-bag. This guy graduated with Jurgen Prochnow from the "block of wood" school of acting, and the only reason he did such a good job as Oskar Schindler is because the part called for someone with a limited emotional range and a face devoid of expression (I'm being a bit harsh, but you get the general idea). I can see the brainstorming session for Rob Roy in my mind's eye - "Hey, let's make a movie about a Scottish rebel in the 1700's. It'll be a typical revenge saga - honest landowner suffers as the oppressive British grind him beneath their bootheels you know, rape his wife, shoot his dog, that kind of thing - then he decides he's had enough and heads off to give them a taste of their own medicine. Now, we need somebody charismatic to carry the show, somebody the audience can really get behind, somebody adept at communicating feelings of unholy rage." [Cracking of ice cubes as scotch is poured. Heavy intake of breath as nose candy is ingested]. "Say, what's Liam Neeson doing these days?"

Of course, with a script like this to work with even the great Olivier would have had problems. Where the scriptwriters went wrong is that they set out to make a revenge drama, not a historical epic. This is not in itself a bad thing, but they forgot the first law of revenge scripting, being "The degree of satisfaction felt by the audience at the evening of the score is directly proportional to the level of the injustices committed against the hero, and his/her reactions to them." What did the villains do to poor ol' Rob? Lessee now ... killed his buddy, violated his wife, burned his house, stole his money, shot his brudder ... it sounds like enough, but it ain't, and the reason is that Neeson is unable to muster a sufficient level of self-righteous rage at any of these occurrences to convince the audience that he's really suffering. Does anybody remember that old revenge flick Class of '84? All the evildoers did to their teacher was rape his wife, but his anger fairly radiated from the screen as he went off to commit acts of mayhem. Liam leaves his home for the final duel like he's just going out for a loaf of bread, and rouses about the same level of excitement amongst the audience.

The other mistake was casting Tim Roth as the number one villain. This man is a national treasure, and it's not going too far to say that I'd watch him in anything. He is a pleasure to watch as he simpers and minces his way across the screen, and he even manages to escape from the piece of cardboard from which most such villains are cut. He's not really an actively evil person, just self-serving, desiring of nothing more than to escape from the boredom of life in the Scottish highlands. I would even posit that he didn't rape Jessica Lange out of any malicious intent - it was merely something which needed to be done to bring Rob out from hiding to face him. It is a virtuoso performance, and this alone makes the film worth catching.

And I guess that overall it's not a bad film, probably even a cut above average. Jessica Lange makes a better fist of playing Rob's wife than I ever would have thought possible, John Hurt is as enjoyable as a fine wine (and still appears to be laying down his cred for entrance to Keith Richards' "Ain't he dead yet?" bar and grill), and Brian Cox (as Hurt's other henchman) is suitably odious. There's a few good action scenes, a bit of homespun philosophy which almost makes sense, and some nice scenery to boot. Now if only they'd had the nous to cast Doc instead of Liam it might have had the guts to see itself through.

[Sound of blender mixing Pina Coladas. Bubble of water as hit from bong inhaled.] "Hey, did you guys see Pulp Fiction? Maybe we could get Eric Stoltz into this thing as well!"

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=694&reviewer=193
originally posted: 11/26/99 22:22:52
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User Comments

12/11/11 action movie fan good period recreation but its so slow pace it,s no braveheart 2 stars
3/21/11 mr.mike It was a bit too low-key. 3 stars
6/15/07 jenna b i have never been so repulsed and yet attracted to a villian before, roth was exelent 5 stars
4/02/07 ES A very good movie, overshadowed by Braveheart and worth the watch 5 stars
6/27/06 leslie weekes decent film bit rambling,good go by neeson roths acting a1! 4 stars
5/08/06 chienne Tim Roth is pure genius. Loved it...er, him. 4 stars
4/19/06 Michael Liked it a lot. 5 stars
8/09/05 Jeanne Liam makes honor seem boring, while Tim makes you fall in love with evil - he's brilliant! 4 stars
12/27/04 mjoc Excellent film, great swordplay 5 stars
12/16/04 Dan Great movie 5 stars
9/06/04 Shams Huque Tim Roth was awesome! 4 stars
7/30/04 chris mrosko very good perfoemances by great actors, good dirction,cinematography, a good story 4 stars
2/17/04 john never really engages the audience -forgettable 2 stars
6/26/03 cochese watch Braveheart instead. 1 stars
7/16/02 Chris Braveheart with cardboard emotion 2 stars
7/13/02 the Grinch Excellent adaptation. Neeson stands tall, and Roth shines as a foppish but deadly "noble". 4 stars
6/21/02 Mick Jay I thought this film was awesome.Andrew howe doesn't appear to know what he's talking about. 5 stars
10/03/01 R.W. Welch Unluckily eclipsed by Braveheart but just as good in its way; pacing a shade slow. 4 stars
3/14/01 Jenny Lines Really good portrayal of the story, but lets accents slip now and then 5 stars
1/14/01 Invader The movie Mel could't make as it utilized true talents and not hollywood schlocksters. 5 stars
8/28/00 Chris Drake Greatest film villain:Stephen Boyd(Ben-Hur);Tim "Pulp Fiction" Roth rocks. RobRoy so-so. 3 stars
8/10/00 Terrie Smith Well done; great cinematography. Fine acting from Neeson and Lange & especially Roth. 5 stars
7/24/00 sulawesigirl The reviewer must have seen a different movie than I. Neeson is incredible. Roth rocks! 5 stars
12/20/99 Kim Beautiful history with deepth. Lange & Roth are stand-outs. 5 stars
10/12/99 Nick Z Outstanding. Deeper than Braveheart. Superior acting - what a swordfight!!! 5 stars
7/16/99 soccer_mum Loved it! Liam Neeson as Rob Roy proves that payback really is a bitch! GREAT! 5 stars
6/11/99 Biscus A romantic chivalrous look at 1713 Scotland 5 stars
9/26/98 Maegs I enjoyed it. Tim Roth delivers a fine performance 4 stars
9/04/98 Badass It's better than BRAVEHEART 4 stars
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  07-Apr-1995 (R)



Directed by
  Michael Caton-Jones

Written by
  Sir Walter Scott
  Alan Sharp

  Liam Neeson
  Jessica Lange
  John Hurt
  Tim Roth
  Eric Stoltz
  Andrew Keir
  Brian Cox

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