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Plunkett & Macleane Review

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A mismatched pair of highwaymen spot a business opportunity: ready cash the goal, robbery the mission.

★★★★★

The debut movie of Jake "son of Ridley" Scott is a messy endeavour to raise the ebullient spirit of an 18th century British Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid. A grungy buddy flick forged loosely from some happenstance historical tale about a mismatched pair of highwaymen paired across the class divide. One is dandy highwayman James Macleane (Miller), determined to set himself up as man of pedigree. The other, Will Plunkett (Carlyle), is a soured former apothecary, anti-Establishment and desperate to raise the dosh to relocate to America. In the dim surroundings of Newgate Prison they spy a business opportunity — Macleane brings in aristocratic connections, Plunkett the hold-up know-how. Ready cash the goal. Robbery the mission.

Both Carlyle and Miller make the most of the thin writing, generating a spiky relationship that develops into a genuine bond, and after the choppy, tentative start that veers all over the shop in terms of style, tone and content, the film offers some spirited if predictable entertainment. The two rapscallions robbing the toffs in all manner of crafty ruses while Ken Stott's proto-copper fumes as his quarry elude him. There's also a love interest for Macleane in Liv Tyler's Lady Rebecca (so the homoerotic hints are swiftly dashed) who's got a pretty good idea who is behind the posh highwayman's mask. The film, though, is swallowed in confusion and self-doubt. It wants to be a rollicking quasi-Western with antiheroes and shoot-outs and horse-riding. But poor Jake can't shake the influence of dad. Crowding his earthy shit-grim "look" with dry ice and fetching lighting and loads of would-be Ridleyisms, it comes over turgidly Gothic.

And despite the for-real atmosphere, the director has also got this crackpot notion of infusing events with a scent of the ’90s to make it hip-for-the-kids — prepare yourself then for ghastly incongruous dance beats on the soundtrack, show-off MTV edits and wacko camera angles that actually reek of the late ’80s pop promo and immediately hobble the authenticity and soundly muck-up the flow of the story.

There is enough good stuff here — especially a neat take on the shoot-the-hangman's-rope riff from endless Westerns — and proper art direction to make Scott Jr. seem a reasonable bet for a better gig in the near future. Plunkett, though, is a pell-mell of good intentions: a fine cast, a novel adventure, a piecemeal romp that rings with the clamour of re-edits, cross-purpose and indecision.

A confused period romp that unwisely brings a modern sensibility to bear on the adventures of its punkish heroes.

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