Michael C. here to do his part to shake up the conventional wisdom.
It’s a big step for any budding cinephile when one learns to value one’s own opinion over the established consensus. If you were like me, when you were an adolescent film lover, you tended to take certain movie’s masterpiece status as gospel. If, for example, TV Guide said that Cecil B DeMille’s The Ten Commandments was a four star movie than that's the way it was. After all, you could see how great it was just by counting the extras.
Hopefully one grows out of this and learns to approach pre-certified classics with healthy skepticism. As a college student working his way through the greats of cinema, I clearly remember concluding that Dr. Zhivago’s 200 minute running time was roughly 195 minutes longer than necessary, give or take a few beautifully framed shots of snow.
But it is not much of a challenge to poke sticks at the bloated reputations of certain “classics”. More daunting is defending work that has the majority of scholarly opinion aligned against it. Just as we learn to be wary of movies that come bearing the stamp of approval, at some point we all end up falling madly in love with a title that is greeted by the rest of the world with at best polite acknowledgment, or at worst outright hostility. So on this subject I am curious to know: What movie do you stand alone in considering a masterpiece?
Any true film lover has at least one minority opinion...
which cannot be shaken by any amount of counter-argument or mockery. A film for which they proselytize at every opportunity, because they know a movie’s critical stature is not a fixed, quantifiable thing. It is an idea continually forged on the battlefield of opinions, and in my book you’re not a real movie lover unless you are willing to wade into the arena like Spartacus wielding a trident and fight for your darlings.
As for my Stand Alone Film, I was tempted to make my case for Peter Weir’s Master and Commander, but I feel that majority opinion is already creeping in the right direction on that one. No, if I could take this opportunity to champion one title that has been unjustly tagged with “minor film” status it would be a different period adventure overdue for reevaluation: Michael Caton Jones’ Rob Roy.
Rob Roy is still regarded highly for its legendary climactic sword fight and Tim Roth’s delicious Oscar-nominated villainy, both for good reason. Rob Roy deserves prominent placement on any all time lists of action scenes or bad guys, but neither element would be half so effective were the film around them not so skillfully executed.
Reasonably well received upon release, Rob Roy was quickly lost amid the thundering charges and blood-curdling screams of another Scottish legend, Braveheart. Without getting too deep into it I think its clear that time has been much kinder to the tale of Liam Neeson’s hero. Braveheart remains thrilling in parts but the sloppiness of its writing and the overindulgence of Gibson’s direction become more apparent with each passing year. The tight, novelistic plotting of Rob Roy, on the other hand, still holds together beautifully with its half dozen rich, complex characters plotting at cross purposes, including a fiery, shoulda-been-nominated Jessica Lange as Neeson's wife. When Braveheart is getting stuck in the mud in its slack third act, Rob Roy’s is moving the final chess pieces into place, pulling the characters with inexorable logic toward that sword fight.
Also detracting from Rob Roy’s standing is the fact that Michael Caton Jones' subsequent career has been undistinguished to put it mildly, culminating in a recent Razzie nod for Basic Instict 2. Critical consensus often does not know how to handle a workhorse director who inexplicably turns out a great film. If the director were Michael Mann and not Michael Caton Jones we would undoubtedly hear about this title’s virtues more often.
So there you have a brief defense of my pet cinematic cause. Now you take it away. I’m granting everybody the immunity idol to fly in the face of conventional wisdom without fear. Bring the passion for your criminally underappreciated titles in the comments.
You can follow Michael C. on Twitter at @SeriousFilm or read his blog Serious Film. If you want more about Rob Roy I’ve already written at length about the brilliance of that climactic sword fight right here at The Film Experince.