Aging star with sagging ego, pliable young beauty eager to please, obsessive stage mother willing to facilitate – the tale in The Last of Robin Hood is as old as Hollywood itself.
In Errol Flynn’s not-so-grand finale, the spotlight that had dimmed began shining once again at word of his death in the arms of his weeping teenage lover. Ironic that he couldn’t bask in the attention he craved, but the tawdry romantic reveal was certainly worthy of a town more concerned with whitewashing the star’s womanizing reputation than the fate of the very young women he toyed with.
The year was 1959. Flynn (Kevin Klein), the comely young Beverly (Dakota Fanning) and her grasping mother Florence (Susan Sarandon) make up our unholy trinity. Though Flynn’s fortunes had faded from his heights as Sherwood Forest’s favorite antihero, Robin Hood, the actor’s death sent the tabloids scrambling to splash every scrap of information across their covers.
The film sets the mood with a sea of flashing bulbs and shouted questions as a devastated Beverly makes her way down the steps of the plane that returned her to Hollywood. In the face of the chaos she faints before saying a word. Unanswered is whether it was the reporters that sent the 17-year-old into a swoon or the sight of her mother amid the journalists, wildly waving and calling her name.
Perhaps that is in part what makes the film such uncomfortable watching, the way it echoes modern-day celebrity train wrecks, from the alcohol and drug abuse to sex with minors. Years pass, names change, the news cycle speeds up with Gawker, BuzzFeed and the online rest disseminating the latest lurid details 24/7. Fame, however, remains as irresistible as ever, the public as insatiable.
That might suggest a more insightful film than writer-director team Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland have given us. Instead of a cautionary tale, they’ve looked at Flynn’s life through rose-colored glasses. The actor is made out to be a cad, to be sure, but in that arrogantly charming forgivable way. Fanning’s hopelessly devoted young Beverly is clever but not conniving. Hollywood is not even cast as a co-conspirator.
The villain is the mother. Sarandon plays the many disappointments of Florence’s life like a winning poker hand – starting with the accident that ended her career as a dancer and left her with a wooden leg and a sour mood. Her own hopes dashed, Florence’s focus became her child, grooming Beverly for stardom from the moment she could walk and talk. The film only alludes to those years, but Fanning is quite good at showing us the finished product; a pity she’s not allowed to show much else.
Just as Flynn is the star in this story, Klein is very much the star of this film. The actor, more often cast as likable and light, makes fairy-tale Flynn maleficent. Klein dances on the knife’s edge of impropriety with such ease that it makes the dissipated legend he portrays more magnetic than creepy, which should be taken as both praise and criticism.
Cast: Kevin Kline, Susan Sarandon, Dakota Fanning.
Writers-directors: Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland.
A Samuel Goldwyn release. Running time: 94 minutes. Vulgar language, sexual situations, adult themes. Playing at area theaters.