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The Best Movie You Never Saw: Rob Roy

Welcome to The Best Movie You NEVER Saw, a column dedicated to examining films that have flown under the radar or gained traction throughout the years, earning them a place as a cult classic or underrated gem that was either before it’s time and/or has aged like a fine wine.

This week we’ll be looking at ROB ROY!

THE STORY: Robert Roy MacGregor (Liam Neeson), the head of a Scottish clan, borrows a substantial amount of money in order to trade cattle and feed his people. When he’s robbed by an affiliate of the lord who provided him with the loan and blackmailed into testifying against one of the lord’s rivals, rather than sacrifice his honor he flees to the highlands to wage war on the unscrupulous men who wronged him.

THE PLAYERS: Starring: Liam Neeson, Jessica Lange, John Hurt and Tim Roth. Directed by Michael Caton-Jones.

THE HISTORY: Long before he became a middle-aged action hero in TAKEN, Liam Neeson was considered pretty high-brow talent, basking in the success of SCHINDLER’S LIST. United Artists, who were attempting to reestablish the brand following a new acquisition, greenlit this old-fashioned historical swashbuckler, with Neeson as the star. Clearly, all involved hoped for big box office as well as critical acclaim, with the cast, including Neeson, Jessica Lange and Tim Roth, all above average for a period actioner.

Despite good reviews, ROB ROY faced a juggernaut when the similarly themed BRAVEHEART hit theaters only a month into its run. In fact, it can be argued that the trailers for BRAVEHEART were enough to doom ROB ROY, with many viewers understandably opting to wait for the bigger, bloodier Mel Gibson movie, leaving ROB ROY to eke out a modest $31.6 million domestically. By the time Gibson’s movie hit theaters, ROB ROY was mostly forgotten, although co-star Tim Roth received his only Oscar nomination to date for his work as the villain.

WHY IT'S GREAT: I’m not going to pretend for even a second that ROB ROY is as good, or better, than BRAVEHEART. Gibson’s film is a masterpiece and deserving of its reputation. That said, on its own merits, ROB ROY is pretty damn great. Boasting a literate screenplay that delves deeply in the heroic archetype the real-life character Rob Roy represents, this is high-minded for an adventure epic. In fact, the film is curiously short on action at times, with most of the battles lower-key, as befits the story. This isn’t in the same league as BRAVEHEART or even the recent OUTLAW KING, but it isn’t trying to be.

“Again a great script and I think a much better script than Braveheart, the other epic film at that time. Though Braveheart struck a lot more bells because of its heroic sensibility, and also because of the sheer feat of what Mel Gibson had done. But I thought Rob Roy was the much better script, and I also thought, from a Scots point of view, that Rob Roy really investigated the nature of a Scottish character that was sort of duplicitous, and the survival mechanism that occurs in the feudal chain. My character, Killearn, was sort of the quintessential fallen angel turned bad guy. It was an interesting character to create. I didn't like being around him. I just didn't like the guy. I thought he was a horrible guy.” – Brian Cox – Random Roles AV Club interview

It’s a wonderful part for Neeson, long before he ever became a true action hero, with it making brilliant use of his physicality as well as his more romantic side, which at the time, made audiences swoon. He’s ably supported by Jessica Lange as his headstrong, independent wife, who pays the price for his pride in a disturbing scene. A who’s who of great character actors pop up in this, including Brian Cox (pulling double-duty with BRAVEHEART), Eric Stoltz, John Hurt, and best of all Tim Roth. If people remember ROB ROY, chances are it’s for Roth’s menacing performance as the camp, effete Archibald Cunningham, whose prowess with a sword is masked by his effeminate, aristocratic bearing. He proves to be a sadistic baddie, and his final battle royale with the hulking Neeson is one of the ages.

BEST SCENE: What else can it be besides the gruesome, final sword fight between Cunningham and MacGregor, thrillingly choreographed by Hollywood swordsman William Hobbs. The ending is killer, but if you haven’t seen the movie, skip the clip.

SEE IT: ROB ROY is available in Digital HD, DVD, Blu-ray and pretty much every other format.

PARTING SHOT: If you haven't seen ROB ROY, you're in for a real treat. This is a movie that deserved a better fate at the box office and a favorite of mine in the historical epic genre.

Source: JoBlo.com

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