Review: The Last of Robin Hood

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The Last of Robin Hood posterA gorgeous period piece about great movie stars in decline. Kevin Kline as Errol Flynn. Susan Sarandon in a stunning performance. References to one of my favorite novels, Lolita.

So why did The Last of Robin Hood leave me completely cold and even slightly disgusted?

This story about Flynn's last days and his relationship with Beverly Aadland, whom he met when she was 15, feels pointless and even occasionally dull. Perhaps it's meant to be another installment in a series of Realistic Portrayals of Stories from Hollywood Babylon, along with The Cat's Meow ... but that movie had style, humor and character depth that this movie lacks. Filmmakers Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland portrayed teenage characters much more successfully in their previous feature, Quinceanera.

Dakota Fanning plays young Beverly, whom Flynn nicknames Woodsie, his "little wood nymph." He falls for her, she succumbs after an unbelievably rough start ... and more unbelievably, the relationship is aided and abetted by her mother, Florence (Sarandon), a stage mother who is willing to overlook a little statuatory rape to gain her daughter stardom, riches and prestige.

The story opens with Beverly arriving back in LA after Flynn's death "in her arms" in Vancouver, facing a vicious pack of press. Florence is approached by a biographer, and most of the movie is told in flashback with her voiceover. This method works terribly -- the voiceover is painfully obvious, and it's impossible to tell whether we're seeing the story as Florence would tell it, or if it's meant to be more objective.

The Last of Robin Hood has a number of Lolita references in it -- Flynn and possibly Aadland were being considered by Kubrick for his adaptation of Nabokov's novel -- but they come across as somewhat repellant and scripted. Also, this movie has the same problem Kubrick's movie has: The young actress doesn't look the character's age, so it's difficult to get the full impact of how monstrous the situation is. Admittedly, it seems that in real life Aadland did look much older.

But my point is that the filmmakers have missed an opportunity to really echo Lolita by making it clear that the entire story is from Florence's point of view and providing us with a truly unreliable narrator, who may be enhancing or inventing details for her own ends. Instead, the plot device just subjects us to flat lines of narration, which could potentially have diluted the effect of Sarandon's performance if it hadn't been so rock solid.

Also, if we're going to get all Lolita-ish in this movie, I wish it had included a scene of Flynn actually reading for the part, which could have been magnificent or pitiful and certainly a revelation of Flynn's character and talent at the time.

In fact, the biggest problem with this drama is that the characters show little depth and just aren't particularly interesting. Kline is quite believable as Flynn but we never learn much about him except that he's fairly carpe diem as he senses his impending death. Neither Fanning nor the movie gave me much reason to care about Beverly, and in fact I feel like the movie ends just as her character might be getting more intriguing.

It's Sarandon who carries the movie, beautifully, managing to look oh-so-slightly-dumpy and dowdy but still dominating the room. Ultimately, The Last of Robin Hood turns out not to be primarily about Flynn or about Beverly but about her scheming mother, which is probably exactly how her mother would have made it sound. I don't know if that was the intention of the filmmakers, or if it happened as a matter of balance -- Sarandon is a far stronger actress than Fanning and may have had more to work with in the screenplay than Kline.

I have to wonder if The Last of Robin Hood is a shorter cut (~90 minutes) of what had been intended as a much longer film. It feels rushed, the voiceover tries to transition between narrative gaps, and many fine actors appear in very small roles, including Bryan Batt (as Orry Kelly!), Max Casella and Justina Machado. Matt Kane has a charming role as Flynn's driver, but it doesn't really pay off -- he just disappears.

The film looks lovely -- if you're one of those people who oohed and aahed over the costumes and the set of the early Mad Men seasons, you would certainly enjoy the visual aspects of The Last of Robin Hood. Even Florence's tackier outfits are delightful, and I love her blue glasses. Beverly gets some great dresses. The credits sequence is obviously a callout to Saul Bass.

But cute shirtwaists and even Sarandon's ability to rise above mediocrity can't save this movie. As I mentioned before, if you want to watch a much more entertaining movie about a notorious Hollywood scandal, get your hands on The Cat's Meow. Or if you want to watch something new in theaters (or VOD), I can't recommend The One I Love enough.