William Hobbs is the Marlon Brando of movie sword fighting. He is the guy who blasted away years of mannered and artificial fight choreography and brought it down to Earth. A fencing advisor with credits ranging from The Duelists and Dangerous Liaisons all the way back to Olivier's Othello, one would be hard pressed to find a memorable sword fight from the last fifty years which Hobbs did not have a hand in creating. Out of that lifetime of memorable scenes his masterpiece is undoubtedly the climactic duel from Michael Caton-Jones' Rob Roy. It is a scene that doesn't just sit atop the list of great movie sword fights, but deserves prominent mention in any discussion of the cinema's all time great action sequences.
Mind you, I have nothing but love for the great fencing matches of Hollywood's Golden Age. I was raised on Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone. But the work of Hobbs in this field has the same effect as the method acting revolution -- after this nothing can be the same.
Hobbs' brilliance is to make the fencing matches more about the characters than the violence. In the case of Rob Roy, I can't recall another fight scene where the strategies of the opponents can be so clearly understood. We know that Tim Roth's Oscar nominated "Cunningham" perilously outmatches Liam Neeson's "Rob Roy". Yet Cunningham has learned the hard way not to underestimate Rob, who can be powerful and dangerous given the slightest chance. So unlike every other movie sword fight where the audience merely watches for the killing blow, here we follow along as the Neeson and Roth try to outthink each other, Cunningham trying to exhaust Rob with a series of small wounds, and Rob hoping to survive long enough to take advantage of Cunningham's overconfidence. It's a mental duel as much as a physical one.
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