Think Movies: Review – Robert The Bruce

Think Movies: Review – Robert The Bruce

by Alan Grant
article from Thursday 8, August, 2019

FOLKS, I’d like to begin this week’s review with a confession.

Even though I have a weekly movie column in which it is my responsibility to help readers decide whether or not to go see a film and so find myself in a movie theatre at least once per week; I love bad movies! 

I would say that terrible cinema is a ‘guilty pleasure’ of mine but, in the spirit of this confession, I feel absolutely no ‘guilt’ about it whatsoever. I suppose that, on a higher level, I believe that there is much to be learned from when the creative process goes wildly wrong or is abused for nefarious or stupid purposes. Essentially, knowing what a crime scene looks like, in my view, is useful in preventing or identifying similar incidents in the future.

But also, on a baser level, there’s something in the schadenfreudeof watching a dumb or malicious misuse of celluloid collapse around its maker’s feet that I really enjoy.

It is this proposal that I seek to defend this week. Mostly because I’m not sure that Robert The Bruceis much use for anything else…

By way of a quick note, many of the examples that I have used in the argument that follows are from the fine folks the God Awful Movies podcast. 

Each week, these three funny and talented creators turn their acerbic and biting wits to a different movie, usually from the realms of religious fundamentalism, pseudoscientific nonsense, and hideous political positions, and tear them to pieces for good reason. They also do a lot of work for some excellent causes. If you’ve got the time please give them a listen, I’ve been a fan for some time and highly recommend their work.

Robert The Bruce is an American film in Jock-face that draws its lineage from 1995’s Braveheart. It stars Angus Macfadyen, who is also the film’s producer, as the titular Scottish king. Macfadayen is Robert The Bruce’s main link to Mel Gibson’s Oscar-winning blockbuster having played the same character there too. In Robert The Bruce we find King Robert in dire straits, pinned back in the woods by the English. He instructs his men to leave him and in a resulting attempt to claim the bounty on his head finds himself hurt. Luckily, the Scots king is taken in by an unsuspecting, and plot convenient, crofting family to heal before having another go at… well, it’s not clear.

Make no mistake; Robert The Bruce is a terrible movie. 

The dialogue feels like it was written by two different people, who don’t speak each other’s languages, who can only communicate by tapping on the walls of the different rooms they’re locked in. Each character only has one personality trait that seems to have been picked from tombola and one fewer legitimate reason to do anything they do. The costumes they’re in look cheap and drab – which goes with the rest of the look of the film. The sound is terrible, the direction is stock and irritating, and most of the design choices are borderline inexplicable.

However, three parts of this mess are particularly deserving of having their lunch money stolen, heads flushed down the toilet, and being sent homeward to think again.

First, the Scottish accents – if that’s what they’re supposed to be – Oh my God the Scottish accents! They’re awful! In fact, waist measurements aside, as I was watching I kept expecting to hear one of the characters berating Austin Powers while requesting a baby to eat. Almost all the Scots voices used in this train wreck sound like they were learned by listening to drunk millennials quoting lines from Shrek to one another in a nostalgic pub conversation.  

The other weird choice that totally wrecks any investment in the movie is its inability to decide whose perspective we’re supposed to be viewing from. It clumsily uses ill-considered time-jumps and fleets between King Robert’s view and that of Anna Hutchison doing a bad impression of Princess Merida from Brave as Morag without ever deciding whose story this is (yep, there’s always got to be a ‘Morag’ in this guff, doesn’t there). In fact, the movie has a bit of a misleading title – it’s mainly about Morag and her family playing Little But ‘n’ Ben on the Prairie; which would be a much more suitable title, given that most of the movie was shot in the US.

The third element that makes Robert The Bruce a crime against cinema is found in the plot but requires a quick note about what are, in my view, the different kinds of bad movie for the sake of context.

First, you’ve got your films that try something good but fall so far short, either technically or in storytelling terms, that they’re hard to watch. This category includes films like Booksmart or and Legally Blonde 2 and The Purge; big hearts, big ambitions, but woeful execution. These are the least offensive films under the ‘bad movie’ banner

Next to them are the movies that are just dull, boring, predictable, and have nothing to say and aren’t particularly good at saying it. For this group think either of the Matrix sequels, Bad Teacher, or Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. There’s nothing particularly special about this collection of nonsense; they’re just your run of the mill bad movies.

Next up, you’ve got those pictures that are legitimately and genuinely harmful pieces of propaganda. Dive into this drawer, should some negligent idiot leave it unlocked, and you’ll find such works as Vaxxed (an anti-vaccination movie, whose creators legitimately have blood on their hands), Loving The Bad Man (the only movie I’ve ever seen with a rapist hero), and Accidental Activist (the story of one man’s quest against Big Gay™ via a petition he signed but didn’t read and the best depiction of what Trump voters think gay people are like) – all lying there. Be careful with this category, because while you are probably smart enough to scoff at its contents… not everyone will be. 

(Note: I mentioned the God Awful Movies lads earlier and I would have no idea about these films, and some of the ones that follow, if it weren’t for their searing criticism of them – thanks guys!)  

Finally, once you’ve trudged through the limited, the lacklustre, and loathsome, you arrive at your reward; the films that are so bad that they are, at least in part, a genuine joy to behold. In this category of precious little gems, many of whom aim at a particular goal, and miss it so hard that they end up doing the exact opposite, are the filmography of Ray Comfort (he of the banana is the “atheist’s nightmare”), The Room, and now Robert The Bruce.

Robert The Bruce’s place in this ignoble order of accidental and inadvertent cinematic masterpiece misfires is secured by its plot. The movie basically tells the story of a displaced aristocrat who finds himself hurt, through his own actions, choices, and lack of political savvy, and, through his further actions, also gets several members of a young and fatherless family murdered in his squabble. 

This is the character that this film frames as the hero… a bumbling and whining nincompoop who stumbles around getting kids killed. The absolute crystallisation of this occurs at the end when Morag stands over the grave of her young boy – who, in a bizarre and jarring bit of planning, had been the film’s cheery mascot up until that point – and defends his death under Robert’s command while painfully patriotic music swells in the background and someone has a bit of fun buggering around with their new drone camera for some generic sweeping landscape shots.

I’m not sure how many dead kiddies the Scottish crown (which in this flick looks like something out of a Christmas cracker) is worth… but I’m pretty sure the makers of Robert The Brucethink they do.

So to return to the point of this column, whether you should go and see the movie, I’d have to say yes – especially if you’re interested in what happens when nobody tells you that you’re film is rubbish because they agree with your politics.

(Note: It is indeed a scandal that showings of this film were so hard to find. In the end, I had to settle for that little known, obscure, and niche cinema chain Vue, which had several showings. Fight the power lads!)   

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