Directed by Richard Donner; written by Edward Khmara, Michael Thomas and Tom Mankiewicz; produced by Richard Donner and Lauren Shuler.
Starring Matthew Broderick,
Rutger Hauer and Michelle Pfeiffer. Rated PG-13 (a little violence).
Once upon a time there was a beautiful lady, a dashing knight and an evil bishop. The lady and the knight were very much in love. So the lady spurned the advances of the bishop, who was also in love with her. This so angered him that he had a spell cast upon the lovers to keep them from ever being happy.
The knight became a wolf every day at sunset, and returned to his human form at sunrise. The lady, meantime, became a hawk at daybreak and was a human being only after sunset. Awkward for lovemaking, not to mention conversation. But an intriguing idea for a movie.
Ladyhawke is an interesting movie. But the fairy tale part of the story is not really substantial enough to carry a full-length feature. And partly since the outcomes of fairy tales are never really in doubt, the last half hour or so of the movie is pretty dull.
The transformation idea gives us some beautiful images, like the lady Isabeau (Pfeiffer) changing form in mid-fall from a castle parapet. And the knight Navarre (Hauer) and Isabeau seeing each other as humans for just a second at sunrise.
But the best parts of the movie are about a petty thief named Philippe (Broderick), a minor character for most of the fairy tale, but the star of the movie. Ladyhawke injects some contemporary humor and less exalted sentiments into this serious tale, mostly through the character of Philippe. And the movie is pretty successful at blending the two very different forms of entertainment. For a while, at least.
Philippe makes the first half of the movie work because of his humor and his unabashed self-interest. After he begins to put Navarre's quest to end the curse ahead of his concern for his own skin, however, the movie starts to drag. He does the right thing, morally, by helping the lovers. But in terms of entertainment value, the earlier Philippe with his boasting and quick getaways is superior.
Broderick is quite good as Philippe, both as the cowardly but slippery pickpocket and eventually as a kind of squire for Navarre. Pfeiffer is so beautiful, especially in the flowing medieval gowns, that it's easy to see Isabeau as the focus of the story. But she isn't in it enough. Navarre is the lover the story follows more often, and he isn't as interesting. Part of the problem is Hauer, who is good as a villain (like in Blade Runner) but is not dashing or charismatic enough for Navarre.
The costumes and scenery are wonderful. Real medieval towns and castles in Italy were used, and such authentic settings make it easy to get involved in the story at first. Some viewers might find the first sequence, in which Philippe escapes from a dreadful dungeon, a little too authentic. I suppose it's the gruesomeness of these scenes, plus another involving a wolf trap, that earns Ladyhawke its PG-13.
Those moviegoers not particularly fond of fairy tales will find the whole movie, and not just the last half, a bore. But I can recommend it (although somewhat lukewarmly) to others on the strength of its art direction and Broderick's character.
Reviewed by Vincent Canby
1985 - USA - Fantasy Adventure/Romantic Fantasy
Rating: PG13 (Violence/Adult Situations/Questionable for Children)
Running Time: 121 minutes
Starring: Matthew Broderick, Rutger Hauer, Leo McKern, Michelle Pfeiffer, John Wood
Directed by: Richard Donner
In medieval France, knight Rutger Hauer and lady fair Michelle Pfeiffer both run afoul of evil-bishop John Wood. Through the auspices of bishop's confessor Leo McKern, Hauer and Pfeiffer are placed under a curse. During the night, Hauer takes the form of a wolf, while Pfeiffer assumes the form of a hawk by day. The two lovers can only meet one another as humans at dawn and dusk. The only mortal in a position to rescue Hauer and Pfeiffer from their fate is nebbishy pickpocket Matthew Broderick, who acts as liaison between the lovers. With the help of the guilt-ridden McKern--and a convenient solar eclipse--Broderick endeavors to set things aright.
Richard Donner's epic film
Ladyhawke tells the story of Captain Etienne Navarre (Rutger Hauer) and Isabeau
d'Anjou (Michelle Pfeiffer), two upper class citizens that were madly in love
with each other and lived a happy life together until the Bishop of Anquila
(John Wood), who was himself madly infatuated with the lovely Isabeau and
jealous of their happiness, invoked a curse that would forever separate the
lovers. Due to the curse, each sunrise Isabeau transforms into a hawk, while
each sunset Navarre transforms into a wolf.
One day the wandering Navarre takes notice of a young pickpocket by the name of Phillipe "the Mouse" Gaston (Matthew Broderick), who becomes cornered by the Bishop's guard after having escaped from the notorious Anquila dungeons. Navarre intercedes and rescues the young thief, but there's a price for his assistance. Phillipe was the first person to ever escape Anquila, so he wishes the thief to smuggle him into the city so that he may exact his bitter revenge upon the Bishop that destroyed his life.
But soon after their partnership begins, a new ray of hope pierces through the clouds of despair. What if the undefeatable curse could actually be broken via a ceremony during an upcoming eclipse? Aided by the slinky thief as well as a boozing priest that actually discovered the potential cure for the curse, Navarre and Isabeau return to Anquila to try and reclaim their happiness and future together.
There's a lot going for this film beyond the interesting plot, such as the very impressive choreography. Ladyhawke features gorgeous sets, majestic horses (and other animals), rich clothing and armor, and authentic swordplay. It's clear the director and his crew set out to create a visual feast for the eyes; a cheap B-movie Ladyhawke is not.
I became a fan of Rutger Hauer after witnessing his sinfully manic performance in an 80's horror flick called the Hitcher, and his subdued performance as the honorable ex-captain of the guard in this film does not disappoint either. Hauer is one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood; a statement Ladyhawke will further show to be true.
Matthew Broderick played the crafty pickpocket to the hilt. Although I was initially concerned that his performance would end up being a bit too hammy for my tastes, I really grew to like the character throughout the film. He struck the right balance of comedic relief and sincerity, making his character a fairly believable weasel.
John Wood gave a wonderful performance as the menacing Bishop of Anquila. It's easy for lesser actors to turn an evil bishop/sorcerer into an over the top caricature, but Wood avoids this pitfall and lends Navarre's nemesis a quiet, haughty intensity that is exactly what one would expect from a medieval tyrant. But just underneath that convincing exterior lays the pain of unrequited love, and as the final confrontation takes place Wood reflects the turmoil that is eating the Bishop's soul through his eyes and visage.
Michelle Pfeiffer was physically in her prime during this role, and lent her character a haunting beauty. Unfortunately I found her performance to be lacking – it seemed rather flat and dispassionate. She was the only main character I felt was simply acting, rather than becoming one with their role. This doesn't pose too much of a problem since her scenes are pretty minimal. Most of the events take place during the day, so the cameras give the majority of their attention to the dashing swordsman.
Permit me to take a quick diversion from the review and briefly mention the movie's rating. Ladyhawke is rated PG-13 and for the life of me I cannot figure out why. Beyond a little bit of violence, there was no objectionable content in this film that I could find. I would have no reservations allowing even the youngest of children to watch this movie.
The story is romantic without being sappy, and the action is exciting without being over the top or graphic. This perfect blend of genres makes Ladyhawke a fantasy that all sexes and ages can enjoy.
Movie rating: 8 stars
By Christopher Null | Aug 28, 2005
Setting aside the hamfisted Alan Parsons score and Rutger Hauer's equally hammy performance, Ladyhawke is a fine little fantasy based on a timeless tale. A curse has caused Hauer and his lover (Michelle Pfeiffer) to never cross paths -- he turns into a wolf at night, she turns into a hawk by day. Matthew Broderick -- who redeems the film completely for any of its datedness -- plays the thief who aids the pair in exacting revenge on an evil bishop (John Wood, reunited with Broderick from WarGames). Moody and quite dark, this is a great movie for a sleepy Sunday afternoon.