A few weeks ago, my friend Cory recommended a movie that I had never heard of before called Plunkett & Macleane. Now, Cory and I seem to have fairly similar tastes in things — I particularly adored Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora, which he suggested I read — but I always get a mite (unnecessarily) nervous when someone I like recommends a movie or book because, well, what if I don’t enjoy it? What if I think it’s pure, unadulterated crap? What if we lose respect for each other as people and OHMYGOD THE FRIENDSHIP IS DEAD.
Yes, well, I’m sure you’ll all be very relieved to find out that Plunkett & Macleane was a lot of fun, and the friendship is, as far as I know, still among the living.
Will Plunkett (Robert Carlyle) and Captain James Macleane (Jonny Lee Miller) — two men from opposite sides of the track, so to speak — team up to steal money from the aristocracy and escape to America before Creepy Mr. Chance (Ken Stott) can find them and have them hanged.
1. Plunkett & Macleane is kind of like a dirty Robin Hood story, except with more eye-gouging and less concern about the poor. In fact, one of the tag lines? “They rob from the rich . . . and just keep it.” So, pretty damn awesome tag line, then.
But I mean it when I say dirty. Looking at the summary of this film, you might expect something of a silly, swashbuckling adventure, which actually, you do get . . . but traditionally, swashbuckling adventures don’t come with particularly graphic violence or prisoners betting on which person who’s currently having sex (three feet away behind a gauzy sheet) will orgasm first. There are movies that like to glamorize 18th century England — er, this isn’t one of them.
2. It does have a fabulous cast, though. Let’s talk cast.
Robert Carlyle and Jonny Lee Miller
Carlyle and Miller are both a lot of fun in this. They have a great onscreen chemistry together — I can’t remember any of their scenes in Trainspotting to compare, but they play off each wonderfully here. Miller has a lot of line deliveries that I enjoy, and Carlyle has a lot of nice moments where he doesn’t even have to say anything — the expression on his face tells you the whole story. I don’t suppose I’ll be getting a sequel with these guys thirteen years later, but I would definitely watch it if I did.
Perhaps unfairly, I was a little disappointed when I realized that Liv Tyler was in this. She’s not a terrible actress — actually, I enjoy the hell out of her freakouts in Empire Records — but I’ve been a little underwhelmed or just kind of bored with some of her other work (Super, The Incredible Hulk, Lord of the Rings . . . yes, Lord of the Rings. She’s okay as Arwen, just . . . well, Arwen doesn’t have a ton of character. I guess, to be fair, a lot of these roles don’t have much in the way of actual character). Anyway, I liked her here as Lady Rebecca, the bored, feisty, pistol-wielding gentlewoman who likes scruffy-looking nerf-herders over rich dandies. In some ways, I feel like she has a little less to do in the second half of the movie — other than be in trouble, of course — but she’s still pretty fun.
And good Lord. I don’t know if I’d ever want to actually look like anyone else for the rest of my life — that just seems weird — but I do have a list of people I’d like to look like for a day, and pretty high on that list: Liv Tyler. I mean, Jesus.
Ken Stott plays Mr. Chance — which, by the way, is one of the best names for a villain ever, so I’m ignoring some of his other okay but not quite as awesome titles — and he’s fairly effective at being creepy. At first, I didn’t think much of him one way or the other, but his scenes with Lady Rebecca (because of course he has a thing for Lady Rebecca) are squicky, and I really do like this one moment in the movie where he’s paying his troops while berating them on their uselessness.
He’s sort of an interesting villain, actually, because other characters — including some lesser antagonists — kind of laugh at him in a manner that’s not entirely dissimilar to how they laugh at Macleane in the beginning of the film. If Mr. Chance wasn’t so godamned creepsome with Lady Rebecca, you could almost feel sorry for him.
Michael Gambon is less kindly in this movie than in other roles you may be more familiar with — say, Dumbledore — but he does a good job with it, regardless. Well, I can’t think of any role of his to date that I haven’t actually liked his performance. Here, Gambon plays Lady Rebecca’s snotty, well-bred father who looks down his nose on everyone and just wants his daughter to marry someone respectable . . . even if he does make her flesh crawl.
My love for Alan Cumming knows no bounds.
Seriously, he’s so much fun in this movie. Cumming plays Macleane’s friend, Lord Rochester, and I can’t look at his character critically — I just adored every damn second he was on screen. Look at this hat. Look at this hat.
Alan Cumming, please marry me. I want your fashionable, snarky babies.
3. Apparently, this movie is loosely based — er, very loosely based — on a real story. There actually was a Will Plunkett and Captain James Macleane who stole money from the rich and were known as the “Gentleman Highwaymen,” although the rest of the story (um, including the ending) are pretty different.
For some reason, this saddens me a little.
4. Well, to happier things. Like music! Mostly, I like the music . It’s often anachronistic, including some weird techno stuff that made me think of Hackers. (Probably because I was staring at Jonny Lee Miller’s face the whole time.) Of course this could have been disastrous (cough, cough, Ladyhawke), but it actually works okay for me here.
And I might be listening to more of the Tiger Lillies because while searching for this song (that’s used to pretty awesome effect in the movie), I accidentally stumbled upon this other song that I liked even more.
Yay for musical discoveries!
5. I like how this movie looks so much, I went to check out the director and what other work he’d done. The answer: not a lot.
Plunkett & Macleane was directed by Jake Scott — son of Ridley Scott and nephew to the late Tony Scott — and much to my disappointment, he appears to have primarily worked on music videos. (On the other hand, some of those music videos were for Tori Amos, Radiohead, Tracy Bonham, Live, and REM. So, you know. 90’s music videos rule!)
Still, there were any number of scenes or details that I really enjoyed. There was this ridiculously gaunt guy hopping around in one of the prisons that seemed to me . . . I don’t know, authentic? And I really liked both the dialogue and the framing in this shot of a man who is being hanged for his crimes.
Good stuff, Mr. Scott. Good stuff.
6. Except, you know, when the lives of characters are literally being saved by the godamned Bible. There is one reason, one, on why this acceptable, and still . . . oy.
7. Finally, some quotes before we go to our (fairly brief) Spoiler Section:
Plunkett: “Surrender is for wankers.”
Macleane: “We surrender!”
Pelham: “When one goes, Jamie, one must go in style.”
Macleane: “Is he filthy rich or stinking rich?”
Rochester: “Fucking rich.”
Rebecca (about Macleane): “Well, he doesn’t make my flesh crawl.”
Macleane: “Thank you.”
Macleane: “Still swinging both ways, Rochester?”
Rochester: “Jamie, I swing every way.”
(while in bed with Macleane, who’s woodenly delivering his bad sex poetry)
Lady Darcy : “Oh, do shut up! Fuck me!”
And on that note . . .
First, about the life-saving Bible thing? Usually, Bibles and crosses and whatever else someone is wearing inside their jacket or under their shirt — these things are only used to save the good guys. However, this time it’s Mr. Chance whose life is — at least temporarily — spared by the Magic Bible. Which makes it a little more interesting . . . although still total nonsense, of course.
Now, I have no intention of writing up a whole recap today, but I wanted to make a Spoiler Section to praise two different things:
A: Rochester doesn’t die.
B. Plunkett doesn’t die.
For that matter, no one dies that you feel particularly sorry for — yeah, Gambon, you total and utter bastard who purposefully leaves his daughter to be sexually assaulted. No one feels sorry for you. (Although I do find it amusing that Michael Gambon has died in almost everything I’ve ever seen him in — I’m not sure if it’s quite Sean Bean worthy yet, but it’s pretty close.)
Of course, it would be pretty unusual to kill any of the heroes (or the love interest) in a silly adventure story, but this movie’s such a weird mixture of light-hearted romp with gritty realism that you can’t be entirely sure what tone the story is going to end on. Rochester easily could have died, as he’s both the most awesome and least important character on screen, so I was very relieved when he didn’t do something utterly stupid, like, sacrifice his life to save pal Jamie.
Similarly, I was very gratified to see that Plunkett didn’t do something stupid like, oh, sacrifice his life to save his pal Jamie. I was never too very worried about Jamie himself, actually, despite the fact that I very much liked him and that he actually manages to get himself hanged. I was still pretty sure he’d come through. On the other hand, the second Plunkett says that he just bought two tickets to America, I immediately became worried that he might die doing something annoyingly noble, and Jamie and Rebecca would go to America instead. If that had been the ending, I would have been pretty irritated because, come on. Boring.
Instead, Plunkett plays dead long enough to kill Mr. Chance by stabbing him through the eye, and the wily trio run off into the night.
Better. Much, much better.
CONCLUSIONS ABOUT THE MOVIE:
CONCLUSIONS ABOUT CORY SKERRY:
His opinions appear to be at least semi-valid. I may continue to listen to his recommendations in the future.
Oh . . . Alan Cumming. Just because. Everyone’s pretty good, though.
It’s cool to steal money from the aristocracy cause they’re mostly just assholes.
Also, if you’re going to team up with someone who clearly has a gambling problem, hide your godamned money better. Or at least check on it daily.