Monday, July 24, 2017
MadCap's Reel Thoughts - "Ladyhawke" (1985)
Also, for a sword and sorcery story...there isn't much sorcery.
Let me unpack this a bit. The tale takes place in the Middle Ages in that one area of France where everyone somehow has British accents. A thief by the name of Philippe Gaston (Matthew Broderick) is breaking out of an impossible to escape from prison, pursued by some guardsmen sent after him by the dreaded Bishop (John Wood), Philippe finds himself saved by the uber-badass and possible ancestor of Miles Teg known as Etienne of Navarre (Rutger Hauer).
Both we and Philippe learn over the course of the story that Navarre was betrothed to a woman named Isabeau (Michelle Pfeffier). However, Isabeau was of such beauty that all who looked upon her fell in love with her...even the Bishop. When he learned of their union, he seethed with anger and called upon the Devil himself to curse them both. For the rest of their days, they would be apart. During the day, Isabeau taking the form of a hawk and at night, Navarre becoming a wolf.
Always together, eternally apart.
And Philippe's part in the tale? As he escaped from the city, Navarre reasons that he can help him sneak into the city in order to kill the Bishop and break the shared curse. The best part? The film actually delivers entirely on its premise. More than that, it actually is able to craft a believable, complex, and tragic love story between two characters who share, all told, about five minutes of screentime combined.
That's right, Rutger Hauer and Michelle Pfeffier share all of two scenes together, and it still works.
The film also, for the major plot point of the transformation between human and beast, doesn't have any scenes that show the transformations besides a single one that drives home the hopelessness of their existence and really helps to build on the romance subplot.
There is fantastic acting all around to help the believability as well. Rutger Hauer plays a total badass hardened warrior on a mission who will not be dissuaded. He is desperate to be free of his curse and to free his beloved from the same fate. There is a surprising amount of chemistry between him and Michelle Pfeffier for them only sharing two scenes together, which is a testament to the acting talent of both of them. It's an onscreen romance that works better than many I've seen in film or television. It's well developed, built upon in almost every scene with the plot being centered around it, and the two of them make it believable.
And then, of course, there's Matthew Broderick. He's absolutely phenomenal and Philippe is one of the funniest characters in all of fiction. Every single scene - and I mean it. Every. Single. Scene. - he's in, he steals it. Philippe's continuous struggle in trying to be good for the Lord (in monologues, no less) are an absolute stitch and he serves also as a silver-tongued messenger between Navarre and Isabeau during their switches in what are some genuinely heartwarming moments.
Really, the only critique I can give him is his slipping accent, but that's easy to look past. At least he's attempting to do an accent instead of pulling a Kevin Costner.
This film is magnificent and I would happily enjoy it again any time. It is the very height of excellence and, yes, by the end of this film, you will believe a lady can hawk.
...yes, Richard Donner directed this. It was either that or a "What a guy, Gaston!" joke. Be grateful.
Ladyhawke is brought to us by 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros.
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