Referencing the sorts of films Errol Flynn used to star in, In Like Flynn by Aussie director Russell Mulcahy (whose last work was 2007’s Resident Evil: Extinction), tells the story of the Tasmanian-born adventurer’s days before Hollywood claimed him. Australian actor Thomas Coquerel (how’s that for a name!) plays the lead, giving the naughty Errol a lanky boyish hat- tipping-much-obliged-Ma’am charm.
Four writers including the subject’s grandson Luke (also an executive producer) created the breezy script based on the Tasmania-born Casanova’s long out-of-print seafaring memoir Beam Ends, published in 1937 in the wake of Captain Blood and The Charge of the Light Brigade, Flynn’s highly successful collaborations with director Michael Curtiz.
In Like Flynn recounts the tale of the 21-year-old Flynn’s expedition from Sydney to New Guinea with three mates – Canadian Rex (co-writer and producer Corey Large) and an Englishman mockingly nicknamed “Dook” (William Moseley). Joel Swartz (Dan Fogler) makes an early appearance as the film producer who is so influential in Flynn’s later life.
In Like Flynn is an action film: a boys’ own movie. The bone-crunching violence is hard to take. Men being idiots is hard to take. Perhaps the film would work better had it contextualised Flynn’s films with his real-life, contrasting the unreality of swashbuckler movies with the brutality of Flynn’s previous lawless life where thuggery reigned supreme. That might have made it less fun for some, but one might care more. Because the film’s about Flynn’s adventures rather than Flynn’s character, despite Coquerel’s superficial appeal there is little room for emotional engagement, despite moments where the film tries to tug at heartstrings.
Some of those moments concerns Salty seadog Captain, played by Clive Standen, either. His character seems thrown in the film to add emotional resonance.
The female characters are given agency, even the woman Flynn has apparently abandoned, Rose (Isabel Lucas), gets a chance to get her own back but this comes across as the film doing the right thing, kind of tokenistic. Grace Huang has a lot of playing piratical criminal mastermind Achuan, with all the glamour you could wish for.
Flynn’s notorious womanising was played right down, alluded to with cheeky winks. Coquerel is pleasing to the eye for sure and looks like the original but it’s hard not to compare his Flynn to Corey Schultz’s memorable turn as Hemingway in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris – a similar hard-drinkin huntin, fishin, shootin, rootin and tootin, all-cojones womanising sort of character – yet Schultz’s Hemingway stays with you in a way Flynn does not. (As it happens, Flynn and Hemingway were friends and fought alongside each other in the Spanish Civil War of 1937.)
Perhaps it’s hard to care because Flynn’s real-life exploits weren’t in the service of anything other than the hunt for gold, ego or women. What the film doesn’t do is really dive in like Flynn. Perhaps Warts and all without apology might’ve done the trick, and given us a chance to see Flynn’s famous charisma at work?
The stand-alone performance for me is David Wenham’s deeply unpleasant mayor of Towsville/priest/pimp/fight-rigger Reg Travis. Wenham does icky creeps so very well and this character with his verbal quirks and ill-concealed lechery is a cracker.
In Like Flynn enjoys lovely lush settings and a nice recreation of the era (the unfinished Harbour Bridge reaches into the sky in the background shots of Sydney). The closing scene shows an apparently tamed Flynn posing on deck against a sunset, while the director outlines a scenario for the actor to engage with emotionally, reminiscent of the sort of thing Flynn went through in life. A nice touch which should have opened the film.
Three and a half stars
Cast: Thomas Cocquerel, Clive Standen, Corey Large, William Moseley, Isabel Lucas, Grace Huang, David Wenham, Costas Mandylor
Director: Russell Mulcahy
Screenwriters: Steve M Albert, Luke Flynn, Corey Large, Marc Furmie (based on the book Beam Ends by Errol Flynn)
Producers: Corey Large, James M Vernon
Executive producers: Felipe Dieppa, Jeff Harrison, Luke Flynn, Joan LeSeur, Gary Ousdahl
Cinematographer: Peter Holland
Production designer: Nicholas McCallum
Costume designer: Glenn T
Editor: Rodrigo Balart
Composer: David Hirschfelder