The movie shows in excruciating detail the symbolic and actual devastation wrought by a small bag of money.
"Rob Roy" has the strength of a small story painted boldly against a big landscape. Without pretense to dealing with an epic subject, it tells the tale of a Scottish folk hero whose honor is in jeopardy. Set in the magnificent Highlands of Scotland, the movie is driven by two actors who are a real match for the country and each other.
Liam Neeson is bigger than his friends and enemies, bigger than the story, bigger than life as he strides across the Highlands to a wonderful score of Scottish music. He is absolutely credible as Rob Roy, honorable man and loving husband. Jessica Lange brings an earthy majesty and impenetrable dignity to the role of his wife, Mary. Together, they are good reason to see the film.
The movie shows in excruciating detail the symbolic and actual devastation wrought by a small bag of money. The money represents the honor of Rob Roy (Neeson) who has borrowed it from the Marquis of Montrose (John Hurt) in order to buy cattle that will allow him to help the commoners who live in poverty, well outside the world of plenty enjoyed by the nobility.
When the money disappears, leaving Rob Roy unable to pay his debt, the customs of 1713 become the parameters of the unfolding drama. Brutality is expected and accepted, but being a failed debtor is an unforgivable infraction of the code. Rob Roy says of honor that "no man can give it to you or take it away. It's a man's gift to himself."
His wife Mary (Lange) knows the inflexibility of her husband's code will trigger tragedy. The brutality she anticipates is wielded in flaming colors by some genuinely despicable villains. John Hurt's Montrose is slimy, and his minion, Killearn, is foul; but leave it to Tim Roth to create the vilest sludge of a man to cross the screen in a long time. He plays Archie Cunningham with such skill that he will leave the theater with you, a leech of a memory imbedded in your head.
This is not a movie of subtleties. The noblemen are greedy, ugly and foppish as they walk around under ringleted wigs, spraying gossip and betrayal as they go. The commoners are pale, starving and accepting as they live helplessly in poverty. Watching one class degrade the other is an emotional ordeal. Be ready for gurgling blood and swords through the heart.
The special effects people have great fun showing the rotting teeth borne by all classes before dentists brought their gifts to mankind. Rich and poor alike look as if they are wreathed in a terrible smell--except for Rob Roy and Mary, who wash their clothes and themselves in a very beautiful river. This is, after all, a love story.
It is the measure of Lange and Neeson that when she says, "The wrong is not past bearing if I have my Robert and he has himself," you understand her absolutely.
Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 498
Studio : United Artists
Rating : R
Running Time: 2h19m
Copyright (c) Illusion
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