Starring: Matthew Broderick, Rutger Hauer, Michelle Pfeiffer
Written by: Edward Khmara, Michael Thomas, Tom Mankiewicz, David Webb Peoples
One of the best fantasy romances to found in cinema, Ladyhawke is a well-rounded movie that strikes a chord that is pitch perfect on many aspects that we look for in a good story. There is friendship, forgiveness, undying love and hate and revenge. Tie in beautiful cinematography and you have a formula that can’t fail. Still, Ladyhawke is not without its flaws.
Matthew Broderick plays Phillipe “The Mouse” Gaston, a thief who converses with God and who is also the first prisoner to escape the un-escapable dungeons of Aquila. While eluding capture, he is befriended by ex-captain of the Aquila guards Etienne Navarre (Rutger Hauer). Navarre is always accompanied by a beautiful hawk. Gaston discovers that Navarre has been cursed by the evil Bishop of Aquila (John Wood) to turn into a wolf at night while the hawk turns back into his beloved Isabeau (Michelle Pfeiffer). With Gaston’s help, Navarre hopes to kill the Bishop.
The whole animal-shapeshifting device really does come out of left field, but arrives as more of a pleasant surprise rather than something that changes the film into something else. The writers handled this topic skillfully by introducing Isabeau early on without explaining who she is, adding a bit of mystery to her character. When we finally understand the situation, we feel comfortable with the situation, rather than put off. Furthermore, the alternating human roles the lovers share heartbreaking to watch, especially when director Richard Donner slows down time for that split second at sunrise where the lovers can almost touch.
It’s obvious that Donner trusted his cast to be committed to the story and to their characters. When Father Imperious (Leo McKern) gives Gaston the backstory on the curse, Donner doesn’t cut to a flashback. Instead, he allows the actors to simply recount the story in front of a fire, relying on his actors’ storytelling abilities, which was probably the more effective choice.
A few words must also be spared for the action in the film. Navarre’s duel in the cathedral of Aquila certainly needs to go down as one of the most raw and emotional confrontations in film. The actors really looked like they were trying to kill each other rather than go through the motions of their choreography.
With that said, there are only two negative marks that come to mind. First, a good portion of the score was terrible and permanently dated the film in the 80’s with its synthesized beats. Second, the story is set in France yet the accents are from all over the place. Even when some actors fell back on the default British accent to represent all European countries, they’d still slip out of it and speak straight American.
Those minor criticisms aside, Ladyhawke is a great film that is sure to please both men and women.