Jeez, I personally felt that "Braveheart" stood to be a bit more original, but Mel Gibson's Oscar winner literally only made it a month before it ripped off this other 1995, arguably overly gory, Scottish period epic starring someone of Irish blood. Well, it still got more attention, which is shocking seeing as how this film seems to step up the game put down "Braveheart" on paper, what with its actually being directed and written by Scots, starring a man who was actually born and raised in Ireland, being set in the 18th century, - rather than the ostensibly less exciting 13th century - and, of course, being even more overlong, at least in theory. Sure, this film is about three quarters of an hour shorter than "Braveheart", but come on, where "Braveheart" dealt with subject matter as sweeping as the First War of Scottish Independence, this film is just a two-and-a-half-hour-long epic about some cocktail they created in 1894. That joke was always going to be lame, but it would have perhaps been more effective if that premise wasn't radically different from the of the other 1995 epic I compared this film to, and if I didn't already emphasize that this story takes place in the 18th century, well before 1894, when they created the cocktail specifically in honor of the premiere of an operetta about this story. If you ask me, they should have made a Rob Roy a scotch, but I reckon this film compensates for any dishonor directed towards Rob Roy McGregoer's legacy as a Scotsman, because it's incredibly Scottish, or at least about as much as it can be as an American project... with a mostly American and English primary cast... headed by an Irishman. Okay, apparently this film is so "not" Scottish that it has trouble telling Irishmen from Scots, but hey, like I said, the director and writer are at least Scottish. Eh, that's not enough to make up for the limited Scottish blood within the veins of this nevertheless rewarding project, which isn't to say that writer Alan Sharp and director Michael Caton-Jones don't have trouble compensating for certain other issues in this film.
Not all is consistent in this film, or at least that's the case with the pacing, which will have the film run long periods of genuine liveliness that add to the entertainment value which carries the final product's engagement value quite a ways, until a sudden jerk in momentum is made and sends the film crashing into just a lengthy periods in which things dry up, never to the point of taking on the dull spots I was honestly fearing would be found when I walked into the film, but decidedly to the point of chilling out some of the final product's resonance, while slowing down momentum enough for you to really notice the dragging within narrative structure. At 139 minutes, this mini-epic adventure film is really not that long, let alone all that overlong, considering the degree of meat to this story concept, but when storytelling begins to drag its feet, it surprisingly slows down quite a bit, hamstrung by aimless spells within the material and repetition, and left to take a bit too much of its sweet time to tell a familiar story. Yeah, I joked about how "Braveheart", as another Scottish period epic of 1995, rips this film off, even though the two separate projects have only so much in common in terms of broad story concept, but both epics have one thing in common, and that's conformity to age-old formulas for epics of this type, for although this film isn't trite or a touch too celebratory of its tired tropes, it is predictable, whether you know your history or not, due to its hitting more tropes than certain other problematic storytelling aspects, particularly subtlety issues. I was certainly not expecting all that much subtlety when I walked into this film, - though that's mainly because I was expecting the other "Braveheart" and know good and well about the subtlety issues of "Braveheart" - and while the final product thankfully rarely, if ever exceeds my fears, my fears are indeed met at times, sometimes through such trivial things as forced harsh imagery or fall-flat moments of silliness or comic relief, and sometimes through histrionics, which water down the dramatic kick to this film, maybe even cheese things up a bit. Really, there aren't too many flaws to this film, and what issues there are are kind of subtlety, but they do kind of go a relatively long way, largely because most of the flaws are designed shake, not simply engagement value, but your investment in the overall product, and partially because the project is a bit too ambitious to be as imperfect as it is. Director Michael Caton-Jones really puts his heart into this film, and result of such an investment is inspiration that anchors many of the compelling areas the make the final product rewarding, yet also emphasizes the areas in which this film does not hit as hard as it probably should have, of which there are enough for the final product to fall short of a strong potential that you sometimes get glimpses of. Of course, when looking for an at least adequately rewarding film, glimpses are good enough for me, because while this film isn't especially strong, it is compelling, or at least musically strong.
I do indeed enjoy a good Scottish tune, and I went in expecting more than a few of those, but I didn't expect this, because even though Carter Burwell's score is too limited in flavor and, in some cases, usage to be all that upstanding, its marriage of distinctly colorful Scottish musical sensibilities with a classical heart and sweep is refreshing, and produces more than a few dynamic compositions, some of which prove to be excellent, both as a compliment to the heartfelt effective areas within the atmosphere and as a component to the film's unexpectedly sharp artistic tastes. Also complimentary to the artistic integrity of this project is a certain aspect that can be found on a more visual level: Karl Walter Lindenlaub's cinematography, which really isn't to special, but has a certain handsome glow to it, as well as several sweeping shots that not only give you a dazzling feel for the decent production value and lovely locations, but help in establishing a sense of scope to this mini-epic. The film doesn't exactly feel immense, as it is something of a relatively minimalist adventure opus that no grand shot can make grand on the whole, but the immersion value to the film's handsome look proves to be about as thrilling as the much less recurring aspect that is action, which is surprisingly not played upon all that often, but proves to be well worth the wait, particularly when it comes down to a climactic sword fight that, I must admit, it pretty outstanding in its chillingly meditative staging and tight choreography. Needless to say, this swashbuckler film goes out with a bang, and what handful of action sequences prior to this impressive climax, while typically a bit too brief, prove to be mighty entertaining as heights in kick, which never slips too far, partially because of the aforementioned other appealing, more artistic pieces of entertainment punch-up, and largely because of intrigue's being firmly set on paper, alone. Sure, there's not a whole lot of kick to this mini-epic, and the kick that is here goes betrayed a bit by unevenly paced, formulaic, often unsubtle, and consistently ambitious storytelling, yet there is no denying the hefty deal of potential to this film, brought to life by such aspects as a script by Alan Sharp that, while spotty in some areas, offers much thoughtfulness to its expository depth and well-rounded, if sometimes telegraphed characterization, which is itself complimented by some heartfelt portrayals of the well-developed characters that augment human weight through charisma and the occasional piece of dramatic effectiveness. Not much is special about the acting in this film, but there are enough endearing performances to this character piece to help keeping compellingness alive, though still certainly not enough to make an underwhelming film rewarding, thus it falls upon director Michael Caton-Jones to make or break this drama, and Caton-Jones, realizing this, really puts in as much as he can, making his share of mistakes as a storyteller that are made all the more glaring by overambition, yet being even more consistent with a certain degree of liveliness that, while challenged by slow spells, keeps entertainment value running strong, until broken by a dramatic punch that reminds you of the depths to this film, and firmly secures your investment through all of the blows. Caton-Jones stands to hit harder, but he still hits pretty hard on occasions, while making sure that most every other moment of this film never loses your investment too much, and while that's hardly enough to make the strong drama that this project could have been, it is certainly enough for you to notice all of the artistic tastefulness, entertainment value and compellingness over the shortcomings, thus making for a flawed, but ultimately rewarding final product.
In conclusion, uneven pacing emphasizes what repetitiously overdrawn areas there are to story structuring, while rather shamelessly formulaic and often unsubtle storytelling reflect a certain overambition that drives the final product short of potential, but not so short that reward follow can't be carried far enough on the backs of strong score work, lovely visuals, thrilling action, decent writing and acting, and an endearingly heartfelt directorial celebration of a worthy story for "Rob Roy" to persevere as an entertaining and truly generally compelling tribute to the life and times of a legendary Scottish folk hero.
3/5 - Good