Plunkett & Macleane [1999]

No one will be neutral about Plunkett & Macleane. Either you go with its notion of cheeky, stylish fun or you want to grab first-time director Jake Scott by the ear and slap him silly. Your inclination may depend on whether you recall his dad Ridley's own directing debut, The Duellists (1977), and savor the correspondences. Dad took a Joseph Conrad tale of the Napoleonic Wars, cast it with the ultra-contemporary Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel, and filmed it with a swoopingly mobile camera. Son Jake has made a feisty period piece about a pair of thieves (Robert Carlyle, Jonny Lee Miller) in 1748 London and filled it with blatant anachronisms. A decadent aristo (Alan Cumming), asked whether he "still swings both ways," replies, "I swing every way!" A ballroom full of revelers dances the minuet (or is it the gavotte?) while our ears--if not theirs--are filled with a rock ballad. And so forth. Is this sophomoric? Maybe. But it's also often fresh and inventive. Why shouldn't a filmmaker be allowed to speak directly to a contemporary consciousness, even flaunt it, as long as he also delivers startling imagery and convincing period detail? The solid cast includes Michael Gambon as a corrupt magistrate, Ken Stott as a very nasty enforcer named Mr. Chance (who favors a thumb through the eye socket and into the brain as a mode of execution), and Terence Rigby as a philosophical jailer; even Liv Tyler looks more interesting than usual. Plunkett & Macleane is in the end pretty frivolous, but it's a lively debut nonetheless. --Richard T. Jameson

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