If all the world’s stage, then surely some players crave the spotlight more than others. And if ever there was a player, it was Errol Flynn. The Last of Robin Hood tells the twisted story of three people who will do almost anything for fame. That each must settle for infamy is one of the juicy, yet unexplored ironies in a movie that doesn’t know which story it wants to tell. By taking an evenhanded and humanistic approach to such salacious subject matter, the filmmakers have effectively squashed any possibility for tawdry fun. Instead, we get a bone-dry historical drama that skimps on the history and bypasses the drama entirely.
For most casual moviegoers, the name ‘Errol Flynn’ means one of three things: absolutely nothing, Robin Hood, or the expression, “In like Flynn.” Writer-directors, Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, focus on the last several months of Flynn’s life, taking pity upon the man who laments, “In like Flynn will be my epitaph.” Kevin Kline plays Flynn as a lovable rogue who created a legend that no amount of drugs, alcohol or womanizing could possibly sustain. Above all else, however, he craves the love and adoration of strangers. Even in the midst of a heart attack, Flynn takes the time to regale his doctor’s friends with wild tales from his glory days. For some, love will always trump self-preservation.
The quest for unconditional love often led Flynn into dangerous relationships. He finally meets his match in 15 year-old Beverly Aadland (Dakota Fanning) and her spotlight-starved mother, Flo (Susan Sarandon). Beverly is one of those modern ‘showbiz children’ whose only discernible skill is having a mother who will do anything to ensure her success. She doesn’t go looking for Flynn’s attention, but she doesn’t fight his advances, either. While Flo sees the professional opportunity of a lifetime for her little girl, Beverly sees an aging lothario who needs to be loved… who needs her love. Did Flynn and Beverly really love one another? The filmmakers seem to think so. They present all parties as deeply-flawed, but well-meaning people who tried their best to reconcile personal ambition with matters of the heart.
While it’s admirable to approach your characters with such fairness and respect, it also makes things decidedly bland. The filmmakers simply click through the landmark events of Flynn and Beverly’s time together, occasionally stopping for a quiet spot of conversation, but mostly just covering the basics with as little depth as possible. There is a furious romance embedded in this flaccid story; a love triangle, not between Flynn, Beverly and Flo, but between Flynn, Flo and fame, with a hapless Beverly trapped somewhere in the middle.
Sadly, Glatzer and Westmoreland don’t capitalize on that delicious premise. Their focus shifts from Flynn and Beverly’s less-than-compelling love story to Beverly and Flo’s one-dimensional relationship, interspersed with Flo’s ill-advised attempts to ‘set the record straight’ about the entire ordeal. None of the plot threads get the attention they need to form a coherent larger picture. In other words, this movie is about everything and nothing at all.
This lack of focus permeates every facet of the film; from the technical elements to the performances. Technically, the filmmakers fail to transplant audiences into the late ‘50s; the fashions, sounds and color palette are all strangely muted. Even the language, stripped of all slang or euphemisms of that era, feels timeless and stilted. This greatly limits the actors’ performances, particularly Fanning, who has no clue at times which note to play. Sarandon, too, seems unsure if this is satire or a straight drama. Even Kline, one of the most gifted actors of his generation, is largely reduced to giving an Errol Flynn impersonation.
There is nothing particularly offensive about The Last of Robin Hood. It’s a pleasant enough film that looks respectable, features some very likeable actors and tells a moderately interesting story. Ultimately, it just doesn’t do anything well enough to warrant the price of admission. It takes a scandalous story and plays it straight down the middle. Even Errol Flynn would be out of his seat by the 30 minute mark.