When anyone mentions the name Errol Flynn, those familiar likely think of the 1938 film The Adventures of Robin Hood, a portrayal of the infamous bandit to which every future performance has been compared. Working in Hollywood for 26 years, Flynn did both television and film, earned himself a reputation as a ladies man, and found himself in trouble as often as he got himself out of it − so much so, that the phrase “In Like Flynn” became synonymous with any charming rascal who seems to easily obtain anything they desire. What most may not realize is that Flynn’s life before making moving pictures was rife with adventures, some of which continued into World War II. Taking inspiration from Flynn’s novel Beam Ends, director Russell Mulcahy (Highlander) and writers Marc Furmie, Corey Large, Steve Albert, and Luke Flynn put together the mostly true tale of Flynn’s early days, depicting a man more akin to the heroes he later came to portray.
Before stealing the hearts of men and women alike, Errol Flynn (Thomas Cocquerel) was a treasure hunter, seeking gold believed to be hidden within the jungles of Papa New Guinea. In learning the jungle, he’s able to take the job as a guide for Hollywood filmmaker Joel Schwartz (Dan Fogler) and his cameraman Ronald (Lochlyn Munro) which gives him the funds he needs for a proper expedition. Persuading pals Rex (Corey Large) and Dook (William Moseley) to join him on his newly procured boat, Flynn is about to set sail when the boat’s original owner, Charlie (Clive Standen), tries to steal it back. Working his magic, Flynn convinces Charlie to join his crew and the quartet sets sail for the mythical riches of Papa New Guinea with their eyes focused on a gold-laced horizon. What greets them will test each in ways they can’t expect.
The one thing In Like Flynn does perfectly is the casting. Truly, Mulcahy stacked the deck in his favor by shaping a cast where, even in the smallest roles, are simply incredibly fun to watch. It’s not just Cocquerel, who perfectly captures the mischief-making spirit of the leading man who’s able to smoothly slip between roguish charm and accurate tension, whatever the moment requires. Considering how frequently the tone shifts in Flynn, possessing a cast which can deftly veer from one humor to another without breaking the reality of the film is impressive. In particular, the central crew of Large, Moseley, and Standen offers more of the emotional beats than Flynn himself. This is not all too surprising as Flynn’s depicted as more interested in the superficial than in dwelling in his failings, whereas his crew possesses character arcs that are far more compelling. In particular, Standen’s role in the film offers the greatest surprise as, perhaps, the emotional core of Flynn, a confusing aspect given its rather massive central character. Yet, surprisingly, Standen’s Charlie is the most well-developed, engaging, and dynamic of the performances in the whole film.
Fans of the first two Highlander films and the Teen Wolf television series are likely well aware of Mulcahy’s ability to capture the spirit of a film in a single frame. When it comes to Flynn, however, the direction takes on an adaptive quality which creates an uneven visual cohesion for the film since the script can’t decide whether it wants to be a hard-nosed action film, an examining drama, or a zany comedy. As such, the opening scene where Flynn leads the Hollywood crew into the path of a cannibalistic tribe, possesses a controlled chaos, enabling the audience to feel the discord and the real threat of life each member of the company faces against the violent tribe. Visually speaking, everything, from the staging to the colors, exudes a similar energy to that of the adventure pictures of the 1920s and ’30s, the very same energy which Flynn would later manifest in his films. Similarly, when Flynn engages in two fist-fights, there’s a playfulness inherent in them which Mulcahy utilizes to showcase Flynn’s natural athleticism. Strangely, though, for all of the leanings into realism, these two fight sequences are the least realistic of anything in the film. Considering the overall feel of the film is a swashbuckling adventure, a reduction in naturalism in favor of fantasy makes quite a bit of sense. It’s these types of choices which make Flynn endearing and equally frustrating.
Though every scene is a charming watch due to Mulcahy’s nimble direction and the cast’s undeniable chemistry, the inconsistency in tone combined with the reluctance to fully convey reality or cinematic fiction make Flynn frequently baffling. There’s a willful glossing-over of Flynn’s internal turmoil in favor of ensuring he remains sympathetic. The violence depicted on-screen always feels like it comes at a cost, except when Flynn’s the recipient of said violence. It’s as though the film is bound and determined not to rustle a single hair on Flynn’s perfectly coifed head, even while bullets fly and blood flows. Rather than exploring what it was about the events in his life that made Flynn give it all up to become an actor, the film’s self-awareness of who Flynn becomes seems to direct the depiction of events. Thankfully, through Cocquerel’s performance, the audience gets the sense that there’s more going on under the hood than he’s expressing and exploring that might have made for a more engaging film. Instead, by avoiding any sort of probing, Flynn remains, like the presentation of the man himself, more interested in the next adventure and damn the consequences.
In Like Flynn establishes that it so desperately wants to just kick back and have fun by opening with a statement declaring that it’s “a mostly true account of the Hollywood star’s early adventures,” and it absolutely does in a variety of ways as Flynn and his crew find themselves trying to get out of trouble more often than trying to stay the course on their journey. It’s truly unclear if the script is aiming for accuracy or satire in its depiction of the events. Is In Like Flynn a send-up of the man and his films or is it trying to give us insight into what drove him? The tonal discord can be forgiven due to the charming performances and the inherent tongue-in-cheekness of some of the situations, however, it cannot be forgotten. Much like Flynn himself.
In select theaters beginning January 25th, 2019.
Final Score: 3 out of 5.