Down and out like Flynn

'The Last of Robin Hood' tells the story of film star's final affair

Friday September 5, 2014 04:00 am EDT

It's not surprising to learn that the life of Errol Flynn ended in a cloud of scandal that was tabloid fodder for months after his death. In 1959, at age 50, Flynn, famous womanizer and one of the biggest stars of Hollywood's Golden Age, was allegedly having an affair with an underage girl, and after his death, the press took delight in uncovering and reporting all the sordid details. The affair had seemingly happened with the approval of the girl's ambitious stage mother, whom the tabloid press depicted as a procuress, aka the worst mother in the world. The whole story is retold in the new biopic The Last of Robin Hood, starring Kevin Kline as Flynn, Dakota Fanning as the aspiring young actress Beverly Aadland, and Susan Sarandon as her aspiring mother, Florence.

The film tells a tale that's glamorous, repellent, and sad all at once, though in the end, there's actually not enough complexity to the characters or the situations to make an interesting film. However, The Last of Robin Hood does evoke some sympathy for the characters by subverting our initial judgments. Flynn is shown as a pathetic, aging letch, but then we also see him as a charming, nihilistic, bon vivant; Fanning's Beverly seems clueless and naive but genuinely devoted to Flynn and admirably unsullied by his motives; Sarandon's Florence seems ruthlessly conniving, but then understandable, even sympathetic.

But the film never does the crucial task of convincing us that there was something truly remarkable or special about these people or this affair. Perhaps to justify its existence, The Last of Robin Hood is insistent that there was real love between Flynn and Aadland. There's something inoffensive and tame about this approach when what's wanted is more brashness and gusto — an incisive viewpoint of some kind. The bland and pat "Everyone has his reasons" is the film's credo, rather than the more interesting "Some peoples' reasons are truly wild and eccentric."

The leads are all good in their roles — it's especially nice to see Sarandon in a decent part — but Fanning's mannerisms are too contemporary for her to play a 1950s teenager convincingly. Kline is obviously having fun diving into the role of a Hollywood legend in dissipation. One of the film's best scenes occurs when Flynn tries to persuade director Stanley Kubrick to cast him as Humbert Humbert and Aadland as Lolita in the film adaptation of Lolita. (Apparently this aspect of the film is based on real events: Kubrick passed and went with James Mason and Sue Lyon instead). We don't see much of 1950s Hollywood, New York, or Cuba, but the story moves around in those places, and what we do see is nicely imagined, if somewhat surprisingly low-budget.

The Last of Robin Hood is at least moderately interesting throughout, but things never quite heat up the way they should. It all ends up feeling somewhat desultory and watered down. It's entertaining for the most part, but viewers may understandably begin to wonder why the story is even being told at all.

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