×

Toronto Film Review: ‘The Last of Robin Hood’

Co-directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland defang their material in this wild and crazy true Hollywood story.

With:

Kevin Kline, Susan Sarandon, Dakota Fanning, Bryan Batt, Max Casella, Jason Davis, Matt Kane, Patrick St. Esprit, Ric Reitz, Justina Machado.

Errol Flynn just might be the role Kevin Kline was born to play, but “The Last of Robin Hood” doesn’t do either actor justice, reducing the matinee idol’s scandalous final fling — with 15-year-old starlet Beverly Aadland (an older-looking Dakota Fanning) — to a waxy, smallscreen-caliber intrigue. It’s as if co-directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland fell for this wild and crazy true Hollywood story on the strength of its sheer outrageousness and then grew too close to the surviving characters over the course of their decade-long research and development, defanging what could have been a saucy period romp.

The public likes its celebrity peccadilloes steaming fresh, suggesting tough travels for this long-petrified intrigue. If the identical scenario were to happen in Hollywood today, however, audiences would be ravenous for juicy inside details. But given the 1950s setting, you can practically imagine them asking, “Errol who?” as they pass over a project that superhumanly attempts to represent all three perspectives: Flynn’s last great love, young Beverly’s naive infatuation and her mother’s astonishing ability to ignore what was happening right under her nose.

As played by Susan Sarandon, Florence Aadland should have been the most fascinating character here. After all, May-December romances are something of a cliche in Tinseltown, where bright young things are easily enticed by any advantage their careers can get. But Beverly’s situation was unique in that her mother — a washed-up dancer with a wooden leg who’d been lying about her daughter’s age for years — was so blinded by whatever vicarious thrill she got from Beverly’s success that she practically thrust the two lovers together.

Flynn makes the first move, however, spying Beverly from across the studio backlot in one of cinematographer Michael Simmonds’ few striking shots: Fanning is seen reflected in a window, behind which Kline surveys a parade of young starlets. Simmonds typically brings a far more organic look to his Ramin Bahrani collaborations, disguising their low-budget origins, whereas here, one can’t help but recognize all the ways the production had to cut corners in re-creating the period (sets seem underdressed, rooms look overlit, and streets are empty, except for Flynn’s lone vintage automobile).

The directors based the script not only on Florence Aadland’s “The Big Love,” a highly suspect account of her daughter’s love affair, but also firsthand interviews with Beverly Aadland and her Hollywood High classmate Ronnie Shedlo (played by Matt Kane), who served as Flynn’s assistant. Shedlo was the one who drove the star to meet with Stanley Kubrick about playing Humbert Humbert in “Lolita,” an irony almost too good to be true.

All of this research turns up fascinating details that might have otherwise been lost to time (including a hilariously campy reconstruction of Flynn’s “Cuban Rebel Girls” shoot), but interferes with the script’s ability to assume a single point of view, which would have given audiences an easier time of connecting with this creepy story. Nabokov himself surely would have appreciated the unreliable-narrator angle, had the co-writers opted to privilege either Flynn’s or Florence’s version of events (and viewers surely would have been smart enough to take their accounts with a grain of salt). Alternately, a “Rashomon” approach, in which similar events are seen through different sets of eyes, might have worked.

Instead, the script represents a too-tame middle ground, which gives the unfortunate impression that perhaps the filmmakers want us to empathize with this icky romance. For openly gay directors Glatzer and Westmoreland (who were on more comfortable ground with “The Fluffer” and “Quinceanera”), that’s an incredibly risky position to take, as homophobes level the argument that allowing gay rights opens the door to all sorts of other unconventional relationships — of which statutory rape by a straight, pushing-50 star needs no champions.

Popular on Variety

Toronto Film Review: 'The Last of Robin Hood'

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentations), Sept. 6, 2013. Running time: 92 MIN.

Production:

A Lifetime Films presentation in association with Killer Films and Big Indie Pictures. (International sales: Cinetic Media, New York.) Produced by Declan Baldwin, Maggie Malina, Pamela Koffler, Christine Vachon. Executive producers, Todd Haynes, Rob Sharenow, Tanya Lopez, Molly Thompson, Colleen McCormick, Lisa Hamilton Daly.

Crew:

Directed, written by Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland. Camera (color, HD), Michael Simmonds; editor, Robin Katz; music, Nick Urata; production designer, Jane Healy; art director, Alexandra West; set decorator, Adam Willis; sound, Aron Siegel; supervising sound editor, Javier Bennassar; re-recording mixer, Leslie Shatz; visual effects supervisor, Adam Polanger; line producer, Gary Giudice; associate producers, Tim Pedegana, Alexander A. Motlagh; assistant director, Chip Signore; casting, Kerry Barden, Paul Schnee.

With:

Kevin Kline, Susan Sarandon, Dakota Fanning, Bryan Batt, Max Casella, Jason Davis, Matt Kane, Patrick St. Esprit, Ric Reitz, Justina Machado.

More Film

  • Amanda Awards

    ‘Out Stealing Horses’ Tops Norway’s 2019 Amanda Awards

    HAUGESUND, Norway —  Hans Petter Moland’s sweeping literary adaptation “Out Stealing Horses” put in a dominant showing at Norway’s Amanda Awards on Saturday night, placing first with a collected five awards, including best Norwegian film. Celebrating its 35th edition this year, the Norwegian industry’s top film prize helped kick off the Haugesund Film Festival and [...]

  • Editorial use onlyMandatory Credit: Photo by

    Richard Williams, 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' Animator, Dies at 86

    Renowned animator Richard Williams, best known for his work on “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” died Friday at his home in Bristol, England, Variety has confirmed. He was 86. Williams was a distinguished animator, director, producer, author and teacher whose work has garnered three Oscars and three BAFTA Awards. In addition to his groundbreaking work as [...]

  • Instinct

    Locarno Film Review: 'Instinct'

    Now that “Game of Thrones” has finally reached its conclusion, releasing its gifted international ensemble into the casting wilds, will Hollywood remember just what it has in Carice van Houten? It’s not that the statuesque Dutch thesp hasn’t been consistently employed since her startling 2006 breakout in Paul Verhoeven’s “Black Book,” or even that she’s [...]

  • Good Boys Movie

    Box Office: 'Good Boys' Eyes Best Original Comedy Opening of 2019

    Universal’s “Good Boys” is surpassing expectations as it heads toward an estimated $20.8 million opening weekend at the domestic box office following $8.3 million in Friday ticket sales. That’s well above earlier estimates which placed the film in the $12 million to $15 million range, marking the first R-rated comedy to open at No. 1 [...]

  • Pedro Costa’s 'Vitalina Varela' Wins at

    Pedro Costa’s 'Vitalina Varela' Triumphs at Locarno Film Festival

    The 72nd Locarno Film Festival drew to a close Saturday with Portuguese auteur Pedro Costa’s dark and detached film “Vitalina Varela” coming away with several awards together with superlatives from segments of the hardcore cinephile crowd, including jury president Catherine Breillat. In announcing the Golden Leopard prize for the film, as well as best actress [...]

  • Vitalina Varela

    Locarno Film Review: 'Vitalina Varela'

    Frequently beautiful compositions and the theatrical use of a fierce kind of artifice have long been the hallmarks of Portuguese auteur Pedro Costa, regarded by a small but influential group of aesthetes as one of the great filmmakers of our era. For those in tune with his vision, the director’s films offer an exciting lesson [...]

  • Notre dame

    Locarno Film Review: 'Notre dame'

    Not to be too cynical about it, but might the recent horrific fire in Paris’ cathedral attract audiences to a film in which the gothic gem plays a major role? It’s likely a wiser marketing strategy than promoting the unrelenting silliness of Valerie Donzelli’s oh-so-kooky comedy “Notre dame,” the writer-director-star’s return to contemporary Paris following [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content