Plunkett and Macleane
directed by Jake Scott
(Grammercy Pictures, 1999)

I'll be the first to admit -- the big movies that were hyped this year didn't exactly pan out. Will Smith's annual return to summer (Wild Wild West) was a flop, The Blair Witch Project was as scary as finding a dead cockroach in your bathroom, and the supposed megahits Star Wars and Austin Powers were ho-hum. Then after the big summer rush we got a rash of spooky movies (Sixth Sense, Stigmata) and mutant monster films (Lake Placid, Deep Blue Sea). In fact, movies this year were looking fairly bleak. That was, until Plunkett and Macleane hit the screen.

If the city in which you live does not have this movie playing, either move or hold the theater manager hostage until they do show it. It is that good.

Plunkett and Macleane tells the story about the Gentlemen Highwaymen of 18th-century England. Small-time highwayman Plunkett (Robert Carlyle) and just-released-from-the-army Captain Macleane (Jonny Lee Miller) cross paths when both attempt to extricate a large ruby from the gullet of Plunkett's recently deceased partner. After getting tossed into prison, Plunkett realizes that, with his skill as a robber and ex-apothecary and Macleane's looks and charm, they could make a financial killing. Basically, Macleane goes to posh parties and sizes up who is the most wealthy, and then the two of them politely accost them and relieve them of their wealth on their way home. Enter Liv Tyler as Lady Rebecca, niece of their first victim, who falls madly in love with Macleane. While the snobbily rich, such as Alan Cumming's flaming Lord Rochester, are excited by the highwaymen, the more worldly minded send their best thief-catcher Captain Chance (Ken Stott) after them.

This movie manages to be both authentic and modern at the same time. If you want to describe this movie in one word, it's dirty. For once, someone actually realized that common people usually didn't take baths everyday, and the streets didn't have modern sewer systems. The music is a blend of classical and techno beats that pulls you into the ball scenes and gets your feet tapping to the rhythm. Some people have complained that the language is an anachronistic blend of English slang and modern profanity. The movie also tends to center a bit too much on Miller and Tyler, taking away precious minutes from enjoying Carlyle and Stott's work. But any problems the movie has are completely overshadowed by the great swashbuckling ending.

While I can't say enough about Stott's perfectly evil and menacing portrayal of Captain Chance or Cumming's Rochester, I have to take this time to request a statue be built now in Robert Carlyle's image. While some may think that Ewan Macgregor is the hottest actor from Great Britain, he doesn't hold a candle to Carlyle. He manages to outshine every member of this cast in every scene with very little effort.

So enough with the review -- you should have your keys in hand and heading out the door to watch this movie. And when you're headed back from the theater, I highly recommend picking up the soundtrack, and finishing off a perfect movie-watching evening by renting Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels.

[ by Timothy Keene ]

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