Rob Roy (fight 2 of 2)

Fights like this are the reason I started this site.

And faces like this are why punching was invented.

2) Rob Roy vs Cunningham

The Fighters:

  • Robert Roy MacGregor, a valiant clan chief from the Scottish Highlands. A rugged yet sensitive family man, Rob is fiercely dedicated to honor & integrity. A large and lethal dude who only fights when he must, Rob Roy is essentially the Ultimate Man. He’s like five Aragorns. Played by Liam Neeson at the tail end of his youth, looking like THIS:

… it got hot in here for everyone else, right? Not just me?

  • Armed with: a claymore, the signature weapon of the Scots.
  • Archibald Cunningham, whose fencing prowess was established in the film’s first fight and whose shocking capacity for cruelty has been established ever since. Every bit as foul as Rob is virtuous. Played by Tim Roth, in a performance that would make William Atherton proud.
    • Armed with: a rapier, as before.
  • The Setup: Throughout the course of a somewhat convoluted story involving theft and political positioning, Rob Roy has been unjustly made into an outlaw and pursued by Cunningham on behalf of the sleazy Duke of Montrose. Cunningham’s campaign against Rob in the course of the film has included but not been limited to stealing his money, burning down his home, killing two of his friends/kinsmen and, most unsettlingly, raping his wife.

    Thanks to the intervention of his much-mistreated spouse Mary, Rob was able to gain the protection of Montrose’s more savory rival, the Duke of Argyll. But mere safety is not enough for MacGregor: he has a score to settle with this be-wigged British bastard, so he challenges him to a formal duel. Cunningham has no problem accepting, as he harbors his own share of hatred against Rob Roy for the violence he did to Archie– violence only committed in defensive reaction to Cunningham’s transgressions, of course, but that’s bad guys for you. Both Dukes observe the fight in court, and Argyll, being quite impressed with the honorable MacGregor, foregoes his usual wager with Montrose in lieu of the guarantee that Montrose will forgive Rob’s debts if he wins; if Rob loses, Argyll will pay his bill.

    The two face off as the referee gives their instructions, and both confirm that no quarter (mercy) will either be asked for or given. Two men enter, one man leaves.

    “I have a very special set of skills….”

    Now while we’ve watched Rob Roy in action over the course of the movie and concluded that he’s plenty deadly, we’ve never really seen him in an extended fight, so we don’t know how he’ll hold up against a fencer who’s received the best training money can buy. Notably, we have seen our hero cash in the chips of Guthrie, the boorish lunkhead who Cunningham beat soundly early in the movie… but while Archie spent a few minutes thoroughly embarrassing Guthrie, Rob simply killed the man outright with just two deft moves. Something to keep in mind.

    The Fight: Intense. Relentless. Raw. Shocking. Flawless.

    As with many things that are more complex than a block of cheese, I don’t really know from fencing– real fencing, that is. But if I did I’d imagine it would be like this, or at least more like this than it is like in most Hollywood sword fights: a series of short but frenzied exchanges followed by long pauses, with speed & precision generally being the most important factors.

    And early on it’s clear that Cunningham has the advantage there. Rob Roy is brave, powerful and determined but he’s thoroughly outmatched by the dastardly Brit’s finely-honed skills. There’s definitely a different tempo here than in the prior fight, because outmatched or not, MacGregor is no Guthrie: Cunningham clearly respects this opponent’s tenacity & strength, having learned the hard way not to underestimate him. Throughout the first “rounds” of the battle, even as he scores an early light slash against Rob, Archie comes off very focused and deliberate; it’s not until later on that Cunningham’s signature smugness returns.

    Our hero holds his own valiantly against the Englishman and even frustrates his advances at several points, though he never once scores a hit himself; meanwhile Rob suffers several light wounds from Cunningham’s blade. His hulking size also works against him (as does his heavier sword; claymores are more suited to hacking at armored foes than fencing), as he becomes increasingly and visibly tired throughout the short match, whereas the villain remains calmly composed.

    Eventually Rob is not just tired but sloppy, dragging his claymore across the ground in-between clashes. One final graze along the hero’s chest sends him tumbling helplessly to the ground, and the villain positions his blade under Rob’s neck just as he did to Guthrie’s earlier.

    The hero is utterly at his mercy, and as Cunningham looks to his benefactor for final approval, ominous music begins to play– the soundtrack having been silent the whole fight. The audience even starts to think: Wait, can this really happen, is the good guy going to lose? It’s been so much rough going so far you alllllllmost believe it’s possible. But then:



    Rob Roy stops the would-be fatal lunge by grabbing his opponent’s sword with his bare hand. He holds the blade still, retrieves his own, and with an honest-to-God ROAR he lunges up and chops it into his disbelieving foe, cleaving him from shoulder nearly down to navel. Archibald Cunningham is no more.

    Sorry Archie, you’ve got to be a Sith Lord or Batman to take down The Neese.

    Hard to elaborate on what’s already been described– what is, essentially, perfection. As mentioned before, there’s no music until the very end, letting the amazing choreography and the actors’ emotions speak for themselves. The bulk of the fight is all gritty, intense realism and the ending is about as big of a rousing, kickass “Hollywood” moment as there is. The resulting combination is a one-of-a-kind experience, and a modern classic for fight scenes.

    Grade: A+

    Recommended Links: Liam Neeson’s more than capable of branching out to comedy, and don’t you try to disagree with him.

    Also here’s this one more time:

    It’s hypnotic.

    Coming Attractions: The original Desert Fox.

    7 comments on “Rob Roy (fight 2 of 2)

    1. worldsbeforethedoor says:

      First, Rob Roy is an awesome movie! Second,this fight review was great, and it also made me laugh. Thanks for sharing and doing such a good job on these fights! Also, I love the pairing of Liam Neeson and Tim Roth. Liam is big, hulking and you love him so much even when he’s a bit intimidating. Roth, while he can play a great good guy, plays a great bad guy you very much want to see Neeson chop in half. Roth is a great foil (pun intended) for Neeson. 🙂 Thanks for giving this film it’s due!

    2. Smash says:

      Wow, great review of one of the best fight scenes ever. I love this movie, and I think the main reason is because of how great this particular ending is. It’s so climactic! Finally, that Bastard Archie is dead. You get so wrapped up in it, that it almost feels like you killed him yourself! I wouldn’t expect anything less than an A+, well done!

    3. Ken H says:

      The scene is great largely because of your emotional investment. Roth’s character was utterly vile and the two characters hate for each other was palpable. As Argyle said to Montrosse, “these two men hate each other” or something sort to sum up the gravity and that this was not a sporting gamble but a matter of far more gravitas.

      The roar freaking rocked and I’d swear he really wanted to to cut him in half on the set. The look in both their eyes when Roy grabbed the blade. Roth’s sudden puzzlement, then shock and finally doomed horror summed up in a two seconds of focus on his face. This fight was the culmination of a brilliant story, phenomenal acting (including Jessica Lange’s rape and her acting during and after it) and finally the best “grittily realistic” sword fight I’ve ever seen.

    4. David Wharton says:

      Ty Sprat. You did one of my suggestions albeit one that you would probably have done anyways. A couple of months ago I was looking at sword fights on Youtube with a service user at work and while we went through the classic Highlander and Princess Bride (we both enjoyed them obviously and they are great comparison pieces to Rob Roy) this was the one where we were both magnetically glued to the screen. The others require suspension of disbelief this magnificantly doesn’t.

      Btw if you want a couple more great sword fighting films. The Duellists (1977) staring Harvey Keitel, Keith Carradine and Albert Finney is a good Napoleonic piece. While On Guard (Originally Le Bossu) is a French swashbuckler in the tradition of Dumas with one duel after another.

      • Thanks everyone! As I said, the honor in reviewing this fight was all mine. Rob Roy is a movie that shows everyone else how it should be done.

        I will definitely keep the recommendations in mind, though I will have to track down some of those movies first. In the meantime we’ll take a break from swordfighting for a while after Zorro.

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