ROB ROY (1995)

Supported by a highly talented cast and breathtakingly beautiful cinematography, Rob Roy combines the Scottish flavor of Highlander, the heroic grandeur of Last of the Mohicans, and the loner parable of The Outlaw Josey Wales into splendid historical fiction. Like Mohicans, Rob Roy colorfully evokes the mythic frontiersman, whose honor, virtue, and way of life become increasingly threatened by the encroachment of "progress," as personified by the perpetually land-hungry English aristocracy.

The film owes much of its success to Liam Neeson's excellent performance as Robert Roy McGovern, the film's strong, silent protagonist. As with his earlier portrayal of Oskar Schindler, Neeson shines in the title role by fully absorbing the character's nuances -- his chameleon-like ability to submerge himself into his part helps lend authenticity to a potentially implausible character.

McGovern and his equally strong-willed wife Mary (Jessica Lange) come into conflict with the newly established English presence on their isle, in the form of Archibald Cunningham (Tim Roth, of Tarantino-induced fame), a depraved, foppish reptile acting as lackey to the wealthy Marquis (John Hurt, excellent as usual), the epitome of aristocratic haughtiness. Roth drips villainy throughout the film, whether carving up Rob Roy's right-hand man (Eric Stoltz) or brutally raping his beloved Mary.

The gorgeous setting -- the verdant pastures and fog-covered highlands of 18th-century Scotland -- provides the other starring performance. In virtually every shot, the camera work accentuates the natural beauty and eerie tranquility of the countryside. Equally captivating is the attention paid to historical detail, from the muddy kilts and musical brogues of the native Scots to the elaborate apparel and keen witticisms of the English nobility.

Rob Roy successfully provides a visually stunning backdrop for yet another conflict between Good and Evil, culminating in the inevitable Neeson-Roth sword fight (which should satisfy anyone expecting Highlander antics). Despite its predictability, the film prevails as a fine foray in historical fiction.

[First appeared in Harvard Independent, 1995.]

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