‘The Last of Robin Hood’
Starring: Kevin Kline, Dakota Fanning, Susan Sarandon
Running time: 90 minutes
Rated: R for sexuality and language
Bottom line: Great acting somewhat saves a thin story
“The Last of Robin Hood” is the latest in what has become a series of films taking a revisionist look at Hollywood history. It has a certain amount in common with “My Week With Marilyn,” for instance, since they both attempt to offer insight into the real person behind a cinematic legend.
The legend in this case is Errol Flynn (Kevin Kline), who rose to superstardom during the early ’30s, eventually fell from grace thanks to revelations about his lifestyle and drank his way to an ignominious death in 1959.
“The Last of Robin Hood” chronicles his affair with underage Beverly Aadland (Dakota Fanning) during his final years. Their relationship became tabloid fodder, and the film tries to humanize the couple while ruminating on celebrity.
It begins when Flynn spots Beverly on a studio lot and hastily arranges a private audition. Flynn is charming, Beverly is comely and receptive, and this seems like a romantic encounter. The film is cheeky and seductive — until it becomes clear Beverly is on the proverbial casting couch.
Afterward, Beverly assumes she has just been used like so many aspiring actresses before her. Yet Flynn persists, and a love affair blooms.
The orchestral score, meanwhile, washes over every shot with sweeping stringed movements reminiscent of Flynn’s adventure movies. Against this intimate story, the score creates a sneaky, ironic tone.
Everything changes, though, when Flynn meets Beverly’s mother, Florence (Susan Sarandon), who reveals Beverly is only 15 years old.
Florence is the archetypical stage mother. A former dancer whose own dreams were thwarted by a car accident, she has groomed her daughter for movie stardom, even procuring a birth certificate that supposes Beverly is older than she is.
It takes a little convincing by Flynn, but Florence condones the relationship because of the career opportunities it creates for Beverly. Florence even begins traveling with the couple and allowing Beverly to stay in Flynn’s hotel room.
Certain scenes work incredibly well, because they focus on the bizarre, uncomfortable dynamic between Flynn, Beverly and Florence, and because the cast plays it all perfectly. Particularly Fanning, whose craft and presence continue to amaze.
Visually, the film maintains a soft-focus, glamorous veneer that recalls late ’50s Technicolor and conflicts interestingly with the lurid story.
However, the film steadily becomes an attempt to rescue Beverly Aadland’s reputation, to raise her from a tabloid footnote into a sympathetic human being. That’s all well and good, but the filmmakers take it a bit far. Beverly is virtually sainted by the end. Her only flaws are her inability to defy her mother and her unwavering love for Flynn.
The tone shifts to that of an earnest drama, too, which is much less interesting than the smirking, inappropriately romantic first act. The effect of the prominent score changes, too. Suddenly, juxtaposing this tawdry tale against a swooping orchestra exposes how thin the story is.
“The Last of Robin Hood” never fully embraces the outrage inherent in its subject. Florence’s obsessions speak to how far the desire for notoriety will drive people, but that isn’t something we haven’t seen. Nor do we delve into Flynn’s inability to face his own mortality in a meaningful way. Beverly is extremely likeable, but one wonders if this is the full story.
It might shed light on how ineffectual the story is to note that this is at least the fourth attempt at putting it into the world.
Florence published her account of the affair in a largely forgotten 1961 book called “The Big Love.” Director Robert Aldrich tried unsuccessfully to film the story as a vehicle for Bette Davis. Much later, the story was adapted for a one-woman show starring Tracy Ullman.
None of these tellings of the affair have had an impact, and sadly, nor will “The Last of Robin Hood.” It might be time to conclude the story just isn’t all that fascinating.
Jeff Marker is head of the Communication, Media & Journalism Department at the University of North Georgia.