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While it judiciously splits its focus to provide a good understanding of the motives of the three key players in a notoriously unsavory ménage, the decorous The Last of Robin Hood just doesn’t have the juice to do lusty justice to the story of lifelong libertine Errol Flynn’s final fling. On the face of it, the fact that the aging swashbuckler’s last lady was, in fact, a 15-year-old virgin when the relationship began will, for a significant public, likely provide a yuck barrier too great to surmount. The trio of film stars atop the cast reflects the intentions of A&E and Lifetime Films to go out theatrically first, but this is a TV-sized production in most other respects and will be more at home on small screens than large.
Kevin Kline, whose classic profile and physical flair in numerous films has often evoked the wry brio of the great romantic action star of the ’30s and ’40s, has said that he more than once turned down offers to play the Tasmanian-born roustabout in earlier years but found the star in his fading years more interesting to portray. At 65, Kline is actually 15 years older than Flynn was when he died of a heart attack in 1959, although the latter’s autopsy revealed that he had the body of a 75-year-old.
Elegant, debonair and with mischief in his eyes, Kline always has been and remains the only conceivable choice to play Flynn, but the final two years of the latter’s life provide for two other roles of equal importance, that of the teenage blonde Beverly Aadland (Dakota Fanning), whom Flynn spots on the studio lot and seduces the first night they’re together, and her mother, Florence (Susan Sarandon), a stage mother so keen for her daughter to advance herself via association with Flynn that she agrees to accompany them everywhere to deflect suspicion from a man who famously stood trial for statutory rape.
For their first dramatic feature since winning both top prizes at Sundance seven years ago for Quinceanera, writers and directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland have crafted a solid script that fair-mindedly assesses the reasons, however dubious, that cause each of the principals to embark upon and stay the course of the obviously doomed association: It made Flynn feel young, for Beverly it was flattering and exciting, and for Florence it provided the hope that her daughter might go places professionally.
Holding the enterprise back, however, is a terribly restrained directorial approach and academic visual style that prevent the lubricious story from truly coming to life. Glatzer and Westmoreland have created a film that’s not only set in the late 1950s but that looks as though it was made then. On the plus side, cinematographer Michael Simmonds has come very close to reproducing the bright look of 3-strip Technicolor and the period re-creation succeeds better than one would fear from a Los Angeles-, New York-, Africa-, Cuba- and Vancouver-set film that was shot entirely in Atlanta.
On the downside, the film is virtually entirely lacking in visual dynamics or force; the straight-on compositions are almost always static, the surroundings are invariably pristine and never look lived-in, and the dramatic attitude remains far too polite for a story that, at its core, is about lust — that of a career debaucher on his farewell tour and a nymphet who, since she stayed with the old guy for more than two years, must have gotten into it in some way that’s never as much as suggested here.
It is, after all, a real-life Lolita story, a fact acknowledged in a scene in which Stanley Kubrick (a physically inapt Max Casella) takes a meeting with Flynn to express his interest in casting the aging roue as Humbert Humbert in his forthcoming film version of Nabokov’s novel, only to be told by Flynn that he would insist upon a package deal pairing him and Beverly. If only The Last of Robin Hood had a measure of the innuendo or panache of either rendition of Lolita, it would have made a start at giving the relationship between Flynn and Beverly some heat and subtext. Kline and Fanning, actors as fine as any you could want in these roles, are there waiting to be fully used, but they feel no more erotic together than Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman in Magnificent Obsession.
Compensating somewhat is Sarandon, whose tart performance as Beverly’s haggard but feisty mom (with an artificial leg, yet) lends her scenes some oomph. Saddled with a dull husband who at least has some moral bearings, Florence is so blinded by Flynn’s celebrity and so optimistic that an association with him will deliver something good that she casts a blind eye to the scandal that will inevitably one day entirely define her daughter. Despite Beverly’s objections, Florence moves ahead with a book about the relationship, Big Love, out of an ongoing desire for the limelight, no matter how questionable, thereby paving the way for today’s degraded celebrities for whom any attention is good attention.
Even as his constant drinking soaks him to the gills and hastens his early demise, Kline’s Flynn is a constant tonic as he dispenses witticisms, self-justifications and self-deprecating remarks in an irresistible English-accented baritone. “I’m too old for her, but she’s not too young for me,” he quips at one point, expressing both his refined style and degenerate tastes in a single sentence. Just before he dies, he relates to an appreciative gathering the infamous prank pals pulled on him involving the corpse of his great friend John Barrymore.
Budgetary restraints are evident throughout, but all hands have maximized whatever they were given to work with. But a small allocation for dirt — dramatically but especially visually — would have enriched the proceedings considerably.
Venue: Toronto Film Festival
Production: Lifetime Films, Killer Films, Big Indie Pictures
Cast: Kevin Kline, Susan Sarandon, Dakota Fanning, Bryan Batt, Max Casella, Jason Davis, Matt Kane, Patrick St. Esprit, Ric Reitz, Justina Machado
Directors: Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland
Screenwriters: Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland
Producers: Declan Baldwin, Maggie Malina, Pamela Koffler, Christine Vachon
Executive producers: Todd Haynes, Rob Sharenow, Tanya Lopez, Molly Thompson, Colleen McCormick, Lisa Hamilton Daly
Director of photography: Michael Simmonds
Production designer: Jade Healy
Costume designer: Karyn Wagner
Editor: Robin Katz
Music: Nick Urata
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