Plunkett & MaCleane

Directed by Jake Scott
Starring: Robert Carlyle, Jonny Lee Miller, Liv Tyler, Ken Stott, Michael Gambon.
MPAA Rating: R for some strong violence, sexuality and language.

Review by Matt Heffernan
October 2, 1999

After the success of Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, the British film industry realized (or did they realise?) that they could make hip action movies just like Americans. So why not set one in the 18th century? Again, we see the conflict in their sensibility.

In 1748, former gentleman Captain MaCleane (Jonny Lee Miller) ends up in debtor's prison after his drunken, gambling ways catch up with him. His sentence is interrupted when a carriage crashes into his cell, breaking through the wall. Two highwaymen steal a large ruby from the deceased passenger, but only one gets away, while the other is killed by a policeman. MaCleane escapes after the police leave, and accidently meets up with the surviving partner: Plunkett (Robert Carlyle).

After a brief re-imprisonment, Plunkett and MaCleane team up to steal from the rich. MaCleane's society prowess can help Plunkett get access to the aristocracy, and acquire enough money to make it to America. Their first victims are the Lord Chief Justice Gibson (Michael Gambon) and his niece, Lady Rebecca (Liv Tyler). Rebecca recognizes MaCleane from an earlier party, even through his mask, but she is turned on enough by him to leave them to their business. Lord Gibson orders police chief Chance (Ken Stott) to hunt down the "Gentleman Highwayman" and his partner, and bring them to justice.

I suppose the intent of Plunkett & MaCleane was to make a 90's British version of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. This film uses some of the same gimmicks from George Roy Hill's masterpiece, but lacks the charm and energy. The anachronistic style doesn't help, either. I could have really done without the techno-pop soundtrack. It does manage to keep its pace for a while, and starts out very strong. But like many action films, it loses a lot of steam in the middle, and the running time is artificially lengthened.

Carlyle and Miller make a likable enough duo, reuniting after their breakthrough performances in Trainspotting. They have an interesting approach to the material, and help elevate it from the typical buddy action movie that it really is. Liv Tyler, however, is miscast as a British lady. Her appeal is uniquely American, and does not translate well to this setting. And what's the deal with Alan Cumming's performance as the foppish Earl Rochester? His pierced eyebrow and over-the-top flamboyance make him look more at home in the West Village than an 18th century court.

Director Jake Scott, son of Ridley Scott and MTV refugee, shows that he may have promise in the new wave of British action films. He just needs to pick more appropriate projects for his style.


For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Plunkett & MaCleane (1999)

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Plunkett & MaCleane (1999) -- VHS
Plunkett & MaCleane (1999) -- DVD
Plunkett & MaCleane: Original Score -- Compact Disc


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Review © 1999 Matt Heffernan