Plunkett and Macleane (2000) from Johnny Web

If The Last September represents the traditional approach to period films, here's a film that wants to take all the old rules and discard them.

Don't be fooled by the R rating. This movie could have been PG. There is no nudity or anything else but harsh 18th century language.

But the movie was worth it anyway. Helluva direction job. If you live outside the UK, you probably never heard of this movie, but it was the film feature debut of Ridley Scott's son, Jake, and it is absolutely dazzling.

A good movie? Well, not bad. It's a period yarn based on some real characters - a shopkeeper and a gentleman down on their luck, who team up to become famous highwaymen, and who rob people with such panache and courtliness that they become beloved and legendary characters. It's energetic, but frankly, I thought the script was so-so, and the characters only moderately interesting.

But the yarn isn't what I want to talk about. Wow, does this guy have visual style and a knack for atmosphere. Every scene, every frame is a treasure. Rent it just to see the kind of fireworks that can be generated by a young director who loves the medium, and loves to show off.

He's not a mature talent yet. The soundtrack was techno-pop, which was a bit of a risk for a story located in 1750. Sometimes it worked to perfection (one that comes to mind is a waltz scene with the actual waltz notes replaced in our ears by the modern techno score), at other times I thought it was just distracting and/or irritating, controversy for the sake of controversy, pointless iconoclasm.

Also, Jake Scott's background is in commercials and music videos, and he may be a bit too much in love with fast cuts and extreme close-ups. But I think that I'm probably just carping. There is so much talent on display here, that it's just fun to watch him at work. This isn't his great movie yet, but he's going to make one, and it isn't going to be that far in the future.

On the nudity front, Liv Tyler appeared in period costumes, but showed mimimal flesh. Will she ever return to our century?

By the way, it was nice to see Robert Carlyle playing in the normal range again, instead of a lunatic or psychopath. For a while there it looked like he was going to be the new Klaus Kinski.

Box office: a failure in the USA, with only $500,000, although it played as many as 475 screens. It was a moderate success in the UK, where it took in 2.5 million pounds.

Consensus: Between two and a half and three stars. Only 69 from Apollo, but 86 from Apollo users. Ebert did not like it at all (one and a half stars), finding it irritating, and guilty of "stylistic excess" - a reasonable point. It's not easy to determine at what point style becomes self-indulgence. Scott obviously passed Ebert's flash point, but not mine. In counterpoint, Berardinelli awarded it three stars and pronounced it a "stylistic success". So it goes. One man's trash ....

IMDB summary: 6.4 out of 10. An impressive 736 votes were cast, so I guess the rest of the world saw it, even if the US didn't.

DVD info from Amazon. The only extras are some bios and trailers, and a very brief feature on the making of the film, but it's a great DVD transfer, worthy of the style of the film.

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