‘Rob Roy’ (R)By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 07, 1995
Liam Neeson cuts quite a swath—aye, and makes a fashion statement, too—in "Rob Roy," a humorless history of the 18th-century swashbuckler's feud with the Marquise of Montrose (John Hurt). As the dour chief of a declining clan, Robert Roy MacGregor has little left but his honor and his noble lineage, which he stubbornly guards, nae matter the cost to his kith and kin.
Writer Alan Sharp gets so caught up in the legend and the lush language that he doesn't seem to know he's written "Death Wish" in kilts. There's also something of "Rambo" in Rob Roy's cheap butch conventions—grabbing the wrong end of a rapier, wearing fetishistic leather garb and sporting a photogenic array of wounds. Even back then, guys in skirts had more to prove than their panted counterparts.
Never mind that they were a bunch of dandified prisspots. RR's nemesis, Cunningham (Tim Roth), is the uber dandy, a limp-wristed fop whose absurd gestures disguise his sociopathic tendencies. Cunningham and the marquise's repellent henchman, Killearn (Brian Cox), are behind all the hero's troubles with Montrose, formerly MacGregor's employer.
The hero's problems begin after Cunningham and Killearn bushwhack his lieutenant, who has been entrusted with fetching a 1,000-pound loan from Montrose and bringing it back to the clan's village. When RR can't repay the loan, Montrose puts Cunningham in charge of hunting him down. To lure the hero out of hiding, Cunningham kills his cows, burns his land and rapes his wife, Mary (Jessica Lange). The last is considered an assault on RR's honor.
Somebody call Monty MacPython!
Skirmishes and swordplay ensue as RR abandons his people to Montrose's troops and sets out to settle the score. Not that he was ever much of a leader or a provider for the poor souls. Maybe the MacGregors were dying out with good reason. Frankly, Rob Roy is about as bright as one of his cows. He doesn't even recognize that his obsession with honor will lead to the destruction of his clan.
Director Michael Caton-Jones and Sharp, both Scotsmen, are so caught up in the legend that they don't seem to notice that RR is about as heroic as a hatful of haggis. Like Charles Bronson, RR has no greater cause than vengeance. Not king, not God, not country. He just doesn't want to be dissed.
Neeson, otherwise relentlessly solemn here, does make convincing love to Lange, who could make a bagpipe play "Love in Bloom." The villains, played with glee, manage to perk up the glacial pace, but they too grow tiresome. It's hard to feel bad when they all get kilt.
Rob Roy is rated R for violence, rape and sensuality.
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