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Monday, February 23, 2009

Rob Roy (1995)

Far more people would have seen the story of the Scot legend, William of Wallace (as depicted by Mel Gibson. Braveheart was a hugely successful film, detailing the efforts of an exceptional man to win the freedom of his country (Scotland) from the oppressive rule of the English royalty. Incidentally, there was a movie released just a month and a half before Braveheart, this one also dealing with the efforts of a Scottish hero who seeks to prove his honesty and bravery while facing incredible odds.
This was the movie Rob Roy, starring Liam Neeson in the title role of the Scottish Chieftain Rob Roy MacGregor, battling intrigue spun by feudal landowners, and how he manages to clear his name. The movie was nominated for a single Oscar (Best Supporting Actor) for the portrayal of the villain Archibald Cunningham (a psychopathic character) - played by Tim Roth.

Rob Roy (1995) starring Liam Neeson, Jessica Lange, John Hurt

MacGregor is a chieftain who wants to get into the business of trading Highland cattle, and hence borrows 1,000 pounds from the Marquess of Montrose (John Hurt). He entrusts the money to his sub-chieftain, but is however devastated when the Marquesses' factor (person tending to his grounds and collecting rents) Killearn (Brian Cox) and his sociopathic protégé Archibald Cunningham (Tim Roth) murder the sub-chieftain for the money. No one knows that they have done this, but the net result is that MacGregor is now in debt to the Marquess for 1,000 pounds (a sizeable amount).
When he wants to try to make a settlement with the Marquess, the Marquess agrees, but wants MacGregor to falsely testify that the Duke of Argyll (Andrew Keir) is involved with a Jacobite plot (an attempt to bring back the Catholic King James to the throne of England and evict the Protestant kings from the throne). MacGregor is not comfortable with perjuring himself and refuses. With this, hopes of clemency from the Marquess vanish and the Marquess orders Cunnigham to take MacGregor to debtors prison. MacGregor runs away, and his house and wife bear the brunt. His house is destroyed, livestock killed, and his wife Mary raped by the psychopathic Cunnigham. This is discovered by MacGregor's brother Alasdair, but he is sworn to secrecy by Mary.
MacGregor and Mary find out the truth about the stealing of the money from Betty, who is a chambermaid at the residence of Montrose, and who had been having an affair with Cunningham and who is dismissed from service when she becomes pregnant. She however kills herself before she can testify. And so goes a constant battle by MacGregor to prove the complicity of Killearn and Cunningham in the killing and theft, with constant struggles. In the end, a duel is arranged between MacGregor and Cunningham, where MacGregor is on the edge of defeat, but just when he is going to face the final blow, he counter-attacks and kills Cunningham.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Nixon (1995)

It is very rare that an American President gets impeached, and leaving aside the case of Bill Clinton (who was almost thrown out for lying about Monica Lewinsky), Richard Nixon was the US President who would most certainly have been the one who was impeached if he had not resigned. As it is, at the of his resignation, he was a most polarizing figure in the nation, one who a large section of the population hated, and whose own men had started to resign rather than follow through on his orders.
This was a movie that was hard to make. Oliver Stone had 2 other projects in mind, but they fell through, and he then decided to make a biopic about the Former President, and it gained impetus since Nixon had died in 1994. The studio was hesitant in making the movie (commercially, they were justified in the end since the movie never made its budget in its hall releases), and given that the character being portrayed was one who was almost drummed out from the Presidency, there was always going to be a set of people who would not be happy with the scenes from the movie. And so it proved, since Nixon's family heavily criticized the movie, and many critics also panned the movie (and as always, some other critics praised the movie).

Nixon Directed by Oliver Stone, 1995

The movie was nominated for 5 Oscars,
Best Actor in a Leading Role (Anthony Hopkins),
Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Joan Allen),
Best Music,
Original Dramatic Score and Best Writing,
Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

Richard Nixon was a complex personality. He did a lot for the United States, it was in his terms that the United States finally withdrew from the mess in Vietnam (although he also tried to succeed militarily, but finally gave up that strategy as flawed), he was the proponent of the immensely strategic opening up to China, it was during his term that a lot of the civil rights desegregation was enforced and the US became a lot less racially separated, he was the President under whom all the successful lunar missions took place. And yet, he was the President who was finally done under due to the arrogance of trying to believe that he was above the law when his involvement in the efforts to break-into the Democratic 1972 convention and then to try and brazen his way out of the investigations into the same incident. He eventually quit when it was clear that he was frozen out. He did a lot more after he resigned in terms of becoming a respected elder statesman, but in the end, Richard Nixon will be remembered for Watergate, the only President of the United States who resigned. And Anthony Hopkins did a great portrayal of this role.