Last week, I stumbled upon Rob Roy, a 1995 movie starring Liam Neeson. Set in 1731, it has a Braveheart-ish feel to it since it’s set in Scotland, pits an honorable highlander against an arrogant English lord, and is rated R.
What makes it merely Braveheart-ish is that it isn’t quite as graphic or epic as its Scottish kin.
Incidentally, sometimes I feel bad for the English. They always seem to get a bad rap in pre-19th century historical films. Believe it or not, history did witness a whole lot of brave and admirable Englishmen and women along with the less-than-awesome ones. It’s just that Hollywood doesn’t find them as profitable to portray.
Or maybe it’s that they don’t find them as epically interesting.
Admittedly, Hollywood’s version of the non-fiction Robert Roy MacGregor’s story is an engaging one. The main character – played by Mr. “I have a very particular set of skills” Liam Neeson – borrows money from a scheming nobleman, Montrose, only to get cheated out of that money by a vile little brat named Archibald Cunningham who then pins Montrose’s missing moola on Rob Roy.
Naturally, death and destruction follow in epic fashion. Though, unlike in Braveheart, this movie does have a happy ending for the bloodied and bruised main character, which is nice.
Even so, after watching the movie, I’m left vaguely unsatisfied, feeling like there should have been another forty-five minutes to the movie. The acting was strong, the setting was beautiful, and the plot was overall believable, no matter how I’m not really sure how Liam Neeson takes the beatings he does without eventually falling over and dying.
I guess that’s just what makes him Liam Neeson.
The scriptwriters, on the other hand, can’t quite claim such impeccable status. They did a good job, mind you, just not a great one thanks to one unsatisfying kind of mistake. It essentially boils down to them taking on more than they could handle.
We see a one-minute scene that shows British redcoats leaving Rob Roy’s village after apparently killing all the men there in retaliation for his escape from custody. Women are sobbing and screaming – quite convincingly too – over the bodies of their loved ones.
And then the scene cuts.
In fact, the scene cuts and is never mentioned again. So why put it in there at all when the movie wouldn’t have missed its absence, while its addition makes me want to know more?
I mean, why did the redcoats feel the need to kill all the men? Was it really in retaliation as I assumed or did they think they could draw Rob Roy out that way? Did they question them first or just shoot them? And what happened to the women and children afterward? Did Rob Roy ever even find out about what happened?
I have no clue because the scriptwriters never told me.
Another noteworthy scene (before that point) has Rob Roy telling all his men that they’re going to get Montrose back by stealing his cattle. And I think they do precisely that, since Montrose mentions as much later on. Yet viewers don’t get to see any of that payback doled out – not in snippets or montages or anything – and, once again, the scene doesn’t actually appear to impact anything else in the movie.
If it’s going to be in there, then I want some plot development. Hardly an unreasonable request.
The problem is that it’s not always as easy to spot on the writing end of things as on the viewing or reading side of the process. The writers might have originally had a much more robust script, only to end up editing out parts without realizing that those edits weakened other sections they left untouched.
It’s also possible that Rob Roy’s creators thought they wrote a complete copy to begin with and simply didn’t catch their mistakes. Either way, I’m not mad at them. These things do happen even to the best of writers.
But it still does make me want to go and watch another epic movie that doesn’t leave out details. I don’t know. Maybe the equally redcoat-filled The Patriot. Because even if there are underdeveloped plot points I’m just not remembering, I’ll be so distracted by all the historical inaccuracies that it won’t matter.