Directed By: Richard Donner
Starring: Matthew Broderick, Rutger Hauer, Michelle Pfeiffer
Tag line: "A Magical Mystical Adventure"
Trivia: Rutger Hauer doesn't appear until 15 minutes into the film
Director Richard Donner’s Ladyhawke qualifies as yet another entry in the already-crowded genre of ‘80s fantasy, only this time it’s not magic, dragons, or barbarians that take center stage, but a good old-fashioned love story.
After escaping from the prison at Aquila (and thus avoiding his date with the hangman), pickpocket Phillipe Gaston (Matthew Broderick) travels the countryside, all the while dodging the guards that the Bishop (John Wood) has sent to recapture him. Things look bleak for Gaston when Marquet (Ken Hutchinson), the leader of the guard, finally catches up with him in a small village. It's at this point that Etainne Navarre (Rutger Hauer) intervenes, fighting off Marquet and his men and in the process freeing Gaston from their clutches. A former Captain of the Guard, Navarre is on his way back to Aquila to kill the Bishop, and Gaston (as thanks for saving his life) agrees to act as his squire. During the journey, Gaston notices that Navarre is especially fond of his pet hawk, which never leaves his side.
As the sun begins to set, the two men settle down in an old barn for the night, and as the hours pass, Gaston, unable to sleep, decides to go for a walk. To his horror, he’s attacked by a ferocious wolf, which chases him back to the barn. In a panic, Gaston calls for Navarre, who is nowhere to be found. Instead, a beautiful woman emerges from the darkness, and, to Gaston’s surprise, she quiets the wolf simply by talking to it. Her name is Isabeau (Michelle Pfeiffer), and try as he might, Gaston is unable to find out where she came from.
By sunrise the next morning, Isabeau is gone. Navarre, meanwhile, has returned, and is more resolute than ever to carry out his mission.
What is the connection between Isabeau and Navarre? Why does one disappear during the day and the other at night? Why is Navarre so anxious to kill the Bishop? A perplexed Gaston cannot answer these questions, but remains confident that all will be revealed when he and his mysterious companions finally reach Aquila.
I probably could have taken this synopsis a bit further, but those who have seen Ladyhawke will understand why I didn't (and everyone who has yet to experience it will be glad I held back).
What I can discuss, though, are the performances. Matthew Broderick is quite good as Gaston, who, along with serving as the comic relief in a number of scenes (his run-in with Marquet is as humorous as it is exciting), proves to be the perfect companion for both Navarre and Isabeau, ready to stand and fight alongside them when the need arises. In addition to Broderick, Leo McKern plays Father Imperius, a priest looking to correct a mistake he made years earlier; and John Wood is deliciously evil as the egomaniacal Bishop, a man of God who occasionally resorts to black magic to get his way. That said, it's Hauer and Pfieffer, both pitch-perfect in their respective roles, who give the film its romantic edge, playing a man and woman dealing with a terrible curse and doing everything they can to end their suffering. It's their story that drives the movie forward and we the audience are drawn into it completely.
Ladyhawke is, indeed, a solid fantasy film (director Donner uses special FX sparingly, relying more on camera tricks to bring this mystical world to life) and also works well as an adventure (I especially liked the scene in which three of the Bishop’s guards storm Father Imperius’ Monastery looking for Gaston and Navarre). But like Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride, Ladyhawke.is, first and foremost, a love story (albeit an unorthodox one), and its romantic moments are sure to bring a smile to your face and a tear to your eye.