For as long as there have been Hollywood stars, there have been sex scandals featuring their famous faces and legendary bodies. Long before notable nudes were stolen from the phones of the hapless and desired, actors and actresses got into trouble in other, less high-tech ways. Errol Flynn, the swashbuckling legend of stage and screen, was a known womanizer and was engaged at 50, the end of his life, to a teenage girl. “The Last of Robin Hood” is based on the tell-all confessional novel written by that girl’s mother, and it is painfully awful to watch.
“The Last of Robin Hood” is a movie about Errol Flynn’s (Kevin Kline) debased and ruined end of life and his affair with a 15-year-old starlet named Beverly Aadland (Dakota Fanning). It’s all based on a true and sordid story, and the most cringe-worthy part was that Flynn was tried for previous instances of statutory rape the year that Aadland was born. Written and directed by the team of Richard Glatzer and Wash West, this film is like a long, rubbery shudder that adds nothing to a story that was already told in shameless and unflinching detail by Florence Aadland (Susan Sarandon), the girl’s mother. But here it is, told again, with the texture of rewarmed misery and joyless nostalgia for old Hollywood in shades of new Hollywood soullessness.
Kline does a long and masterful impression of the easily imitated Flynn. With his pedo-stache firmly penciled on, Kline nails the accent, the affectations and the alcoholism. He looks the part, lounging poolside and fencing with empty air. His skill shines as he deftly inhabits the mind of an unabashed ephebophile and leading man long past his prime. Kline was absolutely the perfect choice, but his performance is so pitch perfect that when paired with such an empty script, it almost reads as camp. Like a commercial for a vacuum cleaner that resurrects the dead Fred Astaire to make him dance for dollars, Kline dredges up the corpse of Errol Flynn. To what end? It’s never clear.
Susan Sarandon is marvelously ugly as Florence Aadland. She drills period diction like a consummate professional and takes on the added physicality of her character’s incidental prosthetic leg. She, too, plays an alcoholic with admirable aplomb and is capable of conveying mixed and complex emotions with utter certainty to the skeptical eye of the camera. But again, with a script that goes nowhere and does nothing, there is no point to her competence.
Dakota Fanning is simply nondescript. She plays a girl who cannot act by steadfastly refusing to act. She flinches and oozes a few tears when the scene calls for betrayal. She simpers and mumbles her way through an agonized series of “Lolita” references. She is dead weight, lying limply across Kline’s aging chest, blatantly not attempting period diction or even a serviceable impression of Aadland, whose reel is still available for study. Fanning plays a blond blank; the script gives her little to work with, and she does little work. The result is a pale ghost in the starring role, overshadowed by the brilliant Kline in his role as the repugnant letch. There is no relief from the unrelenting, bored discomfort of this film.
The one thing that “The Last of Robin Hood” gets right is the visual aspect. The costumes, accessories, set pieces, cars and even the makeup is exquisitely translated from the lurid memoirs and press clippings from the actual illicit affairs. Visually, this film is on point and evokes the utmost atmosphere for which it reaches. Kline’s makeup in Flynn’s death scene is horrifyingly realistic, and Sarandon’s face is treated without kindness and allowed to hag where the hag is needed. Everything else — the script, the lazy cinematography, the long pointless shots and the dreary cliches in music boxes and spinning newspapers — fails utterly to justify the retelling of a torrid and trying affair and exploitative arrangement between a girl and a creepy old man. At least “Lolita” had a script and a point. “The Last of Robin Hood” has almost nothing to recommend it.
“The Last of Robin Hood” is playing at Shattuck Cinemas.
Contact Meg Elison at [email protected].