If you're a big fan of Errol Flynn and are looking for a more traditional biopic about the swashbuckling star of old Hollywood, The Last of Robin Hood will surely be a disappointment. Not only does it focus on the last two years of Flynn's life, it's not even told from the point-of-view of Flynn himself. Instead of a traditional biopic, we get a study on a burgeoning romance between a very young woman and a middle-aged man. Even though it doesn't bring anything new to the table as far as that theme is concerned, at least it presents a levelheaded approach that stays away from sensationalism.
In fact, delving into the true story behind the crass over-simplifications of tabloid journalism is one of its points. When Errol Flynn (Kevin Kline) died in 1959 at the age of 50, the media mostly focused on his affair with then 17-year-old Beverly Aadland (Dakota Fanning), speculating on the "tawdry" details of their relationship and bringing Adland's reputation into question.
We complain today about the shallowness of media, ready to perform baseless character assassinations in order to grab ratings or increase circulation, but a period film like The Last of Robin Hood once again shows that media wasn't that much better in the olden days, as tabloid magazines basically accused Beverly to be a slut who ruined Flynn's life. It's not like Flynn had any fault in seducing a minor, right? After all, he played Robin Hood! What did Beverly do that anyone remembers, other than having sex with a Hollywood star?
It's too bad that Beverly Aadland didn't shack up with a movie star now, he'd have at least come out of the whole ordeal with a reality show, especially with a manipulative mother, Florance (Susan Sarandon), who's desperate to turn her daughter into a star so she can live vicariously through her. Yet in the late 50s, Beverly was practically branded with a scarlet letter and was forced to fade back into obscurity. The film uses Florance's account of the relationship as a framing device as she tells Beverly's story to a reporter. Not the most original framing device, especially for a biopic, but it'll do.
Beverly, who passes herself off as an 18-year-old at the age of 15, is a na´ve and eager actress when she's noticed by Flynn, who, just like a bunch of aging stars of his or any other time, uses his reputation to draw the young girl in for a very one-sided one night stand. Even though, or perhaps because, Flynn finds out that the girl is underage, he becomes obsessed with her and the two slowly become an item as Flynn convinces Florance to turn a blind eye to the extremely illegal affair by appealing to her unconditional love of everything Hollywood.
The problem with writer/directors Richard Glatzer (Who unfortunately passed away recently) and Wash Westmoreland's approach to the story is that it basically puts together a pretty typical Hollywood romance without really delving into the many oddities of the pairing. For example, one of the most fascinating details of the relationship is that Flynn idolizes Vladimir Nobokov's novel Lolita for all the wrong reasons. He loves and identifies with the story's protagonist Humbert Humbert, not realizing that he was supposed to be a despicable and weak character. There's a brief scene showing Flynn pitching the idea of the film version with himself as Humbert and Beverly as Lolita to Stanley Kubrick, who can't do anything but look at Flynn with utter bafflement. If this meeting actually took place, I'd have given anything for a recording of it.
Perhaps the point was to see Flynn through young Beverly's eyes, since the way he's written almost always comes across as charming and delightful. That may have been the case, but there's still something icky about a middle-aged man nonchalantly engaging in an affair with a 15-year-old. Some of the despicable things Flynn does later on to leave Beverly high and dry also don't paint a very positive picture. Therefore, a contradiction begins to form in the narrative.
The DVD holds a 90-minute film without any extras so the bit rate is fairly high on this standard definition presentation. The transfer looks as crisp as possible while upconverted and there isn't any obvious video noise. In order to capture the feel of the old Hollywood period, the film has a very Technicolor feel, which is fine. However, the hue seemed overtly pink, especially on actors' faces. It might be my system, but I tested other sources to make sure and the problem occurs with this disc only.
The lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 track gets the job done as far as presenting a fairly usual biopic that takes place in the 50s. The period songs retain their simple mono flavor while the dialogue mostly coming out of front speakers sounds clean and clear. Overall, this is a mix that can be easily enjoyed in stereo downmix on TV.
Apart from Previews of other films, we get nothing.
The Last of Robin Hood tells an intriguing story about a fairly unknown chapter in a Hollywood legend's life. Perhaps because it glamorizes Flynn while adding some satirical touches regarding his idolatry of Lolita, it's a bit tonally off. However, the excellent performances, especially Susan Sarandon's pitch perfect take on a Hollywood helicopter parent, as well an assured direction and tight pacing, turns it into a definite rental.