The Last of Robin Hood

Kilian Melloy READ TIME: 3 MIN.

Who but Kevin Kline could play the womanizing, swashbuckling, devilish Errol Flynn? In the new film "The Last of Robin Hood," written and directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, that bit of casting seems inspired, as does Susan Sarandon's inclusion as a stage mother named Florence Aadland. When Kline and Sarandon share the screen, there's a warmth and complexity about the film that's lacking elsewhere -- which is a shame, because the movie is supposed to be about Flynn's affair with Florence's under-aged daughter, Beverly (Dakota Fanning).

If the real Beverly Aadland was anything like this screen representation, Flynn might be at least partially forgiven for his misdeeds involving her, mistaking her as he does in the film for someone considerably older. Even when she herself was a juvenile, the 20-year-old Fanning had a middle-aged air about her, an affect that director Steven Spielberg put to effective use when Fanning co-starred in Spielberg's 2005 remake of "War of the Worlds." Still, 15 years old is 15 years old, and discovering Beverly's true age doesn't slow Flynn down. With a mixture of charm and less pleasant manipulation, the actor - well past his prime at this point (the film starts somewhere around 1958) - draws Florence into complicity. It's creepy, and yet, as played by Klein, Sarandon, and Fanning, the dynamics of this complicated relationship, in which ambition mixes with need, love, and tenderness, takes on some depth.

Most of the other elements of this film lack that sort of depth. Structured clunkily as a series of flashbacks, as Florence relates the story to a writer looking to wring a sensationalistic book out of the scandal, "The Last of Robin Hood" has a workmanlike feel and, often, a tin ear. The cinematography is uninspired; the writing and direction are merely adequate, and sometimes a little painful. (As soon as Florence reaches the part in her sordid tale about her by-then 16-year-old daughter joining Flynn in Africa on a film shoot for five months, we cut to three African men banging on drums around a campfire while Flynn, ensconced in his tent, composes a love letter. Just because this is a film about events from the late 1950s doesn't mean the film should play like something made in the 1950s.)

Even subplots that should be dramatically enriching are neglected in the most puzzling way. When Beverly's father Herb (Patrick St. Esprit) objects to the attentions Flynn is paying his daughter and Florence, caught up in her own frustrated ambition for fame (she was a dancer before losing her leg in an car accident), stands up to him, he announces that he's "washing [his] hands" of mother and daughter alike. That's a drastic step to take so early in this particular disagreement, and hints at years of tension and resentment brewing between the two... but once Herb has his say, the character vanishes from the picture, his divorce from Florence remaining off-screen and referred to almost in passing.

Similarly, chances for some juicy comic material are missed rather than mined. A brief scene in which Flynn meets with Stanley Kubrick to negotiate starring in "Lolita," with Beverly in the title role and himself as Humbert Humbert, slinks by; its inclusion here, like the real-life interest Kubrick showed in Flynn for the part, is altogether too on the nose, but the moment thuds instead of tickles. Even the re-creation of footage from a self-produced B-feature, the 1959 pro-Castro "Cuban Rebel Girls" (which actually did star Beverly Aadberg), provides only momentary amusement; any deeper resonance or tragic undertones are quelled by the movie's twitchy momentum and diffuse plotting.

One respect in which "The Last of Robin Hood" distinguishes itself is in walking a fine line between love and exploitation. In real life, Beverly Aadberg proved reluctant to discuss her relationship with the star; the film interprets this as a characteristically precocious desire to protect not only herself, but Flynn as well, and the private feelings they had for one another. As shown here, those feelings ran a gamut: Flynn is borderline date rapist and an incorrigible rake, but he's also a dedicated, sometimes jealous lover and a future husband who didn't have enough of a future left to tie the knot before being felled by his failing health -- possibly it was a heart attack, perhaps a pulmonary embolism, but Flynn died in 1959, aged only 50 years.

The film itself seems to hold back out of fear of exploitation. But its intentions are never quite clear: Is this meant to be a tragic romance? A bittersweet drama with historical roots? A thin slice of biopic? Because its constituent elements never really fit comfortably together, "The Last of Robin Hood" never quite equals the sum of its parts.

by Kilian Melloy , EDGE Staff Reporter

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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