Rob Roy (United States, 1995)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Ultimately, it's of minor import how much of Rob Roy is based upon historical fact and how much has been embellished by the pen of screenwriter Alan Sharp. As a hero of 18th century Scotland, Robert Roy MacGregor is known to have walked through the mists of the Highlands, living by the code that made his name a legend. This film takes the skeletal myth and builds a real person around those bones. As embodied by Liam Neeson, Rob Roy is a tremendous protagonist -- a naive man whose belief in honor and whose love for a woman, family, and clan make him a figure to cheer for.

Rob Roy has great villains as well. Tim Roth, one of today's finest character actors, takes on a role so different from that in Pulp Fiction that it's only his distinctive face that identifies him. Roth plays Cunningham, a fop with effete mannerisms and a deadly blade. He's a sociopath who kills and rapes without compunction or remorse, and whose primary goal in life is to make the best out of a tormented existence in Scotland. Hunting down Rob Roy gives him something to do -- something he enjoys.

Veteran actor John Hurt plays Cunningham's "keeper", the Marquis of Montrose, a Scottish lord who has become so used to a pampered life that he can't imagine things not going his way. Like his henchman, his sole objective is amassing wealth. He doesn't care who gets hurt in the process, and is willing to turn a blind eye to Cunningham's immoral actions as long as the net result is his own profit.

The fourth major player is Rob's wife Mary (Jessica Lange). Her relationship with her husband is one of the cornerstones upon which Rob Roy is founded, and her inner strength makes her a character to be reckoned with. This is no mere "stand by your man" role -- in many ways, Mary is as important to the story as Rob himself.

It's the forcefulness of the characters and the talents of the actors who play them that give Rob Roy its soul. After all, almost everyone loves a movie with admirable heros and detestable villains. But there is more to this film than that. The story is well-developed, exciting, and visceral, and works equally well as an epic drama or an historical adventure. Those who enjoyed The Last of the Mohicans and Legends of the Fall will almost certainly find Rob Roy to their taste. By almost any standard of film making, this motion picture is in the same league.

Director Michael Caton-Jones, who has helmed such films as Scandal, Memphis Belle, and This Boy's Life, adds another impressive credit to his resume. This movie, like his previous efforts, capably blends diverse motion picture elements into a satisfying whole. It's the depth of character development and uncompromising devotion to an intelligent narrative that mark Rob Roy as a standout of its genre. It's refreshing to find a movie that makes the effort to set up things before entering the meat of the tale. Too often, background is given by a quick voice-over at the film's outset. Not so here.

The picture is well-crafted, with expert editing, impressive camerawork, and an atmospheric musical score. Composer Carter Burwell has combined traditional Scottish folk songs with original material to form an audio tapestry that compliments the lens work of Karl Walter Lindenlaub (whose last job as a cinematographer came on Stargate). With all the elements coming together so flawlessly, Caton-Jones can be justifiably proud of Rob Roy, sure to be one of 1995's most absorbing and exhilarating epic adventures.

Rob Roy (United States, 1995)

Director: Michael Caton-Jones
Cast: Liam Neeson, Jessica Lange, John Hurt, Tim Roth, Eric Stoltz, Brian Cox, Andrew Keir
Screenplay: Alan Sharp
Cinematography: Karl Walter Lindenlaub
Music: Carter Burwell
U.S. Distributor: United Artists
Run Time: 2:15
U.S. Release Date: 1995-04-07
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Sexual Situations, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1