Robert de Niro
Trumpets and fanfares. Halleluiah, at last we have a film that can compete with the sublime Princess Bride and Labyrinth. Based on the Neil Gaiman novel of the same name, Stardust is a proper fantasy film – not a special-effects vehicle or a Hollywood-war-movie-with-swords – but rather a rip-roaring adventure with appeal for everyone.
Tristan (Charlie Cox) lives in the town of Wall and is in love with Victoria (Sienna Miller). To prove his love he vows to bring back a piece of a falling star. Tristan has to travel beyond Wall into the weird and dangerous world of Stormhold to collect the star, which turns out to come in the form of a girl, Yvaine (Claire Daines).
Yvaine and Tristan go through many adventures in their attempts to get back to Wall, including confrontations with glamorous witch Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) and scheming prince Rupert Everett. Peter O’Toole has a brief cameo and Ricky Gervais is stabbed. Best of all is Robert de Niro as a murderous pirate with an entertaining secret.
However, it is the largely British cast of smaller parts which make this such an excellent film: Mark Strong as Septimus the Prince with a wicked heart, David Kelly as the guardian of the wall and Nathaniel Parker as Tristan’s father. The underrated Melanie Hill puts in an excellent turn as lowly witch Ditchwater Sal.
Charlie Cox is superb as the slightly weedy Tristan. It’s his journey that drives the film and his transformation which provides the emotion. I suspect Claire Daines as Yvaine was supposed to be the focus and while she is good, her sometimes bland characterisation doesn’t make you care enough about her.
But what makes Stardust an unexpected delight is the humour. Robert de Niro is hilarious as the pirate Captain, a de Niro you have definitely never seen before. And the level of spectacle is impressive considering the film’s relatively low budget: director Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake) creates sequences of real dramatic tension while still following fantasy rules. The film creates a complete world of witches, questing princes, pirates and cursed princesses while retaining a knowing streak and avoiding any tiresome cliche.
Vaughn and fellow scriptwriter Jane Goldman have done an unusually fine job in turning Gaiman’s novel into a screenplay, avoiding the kind of stilted dialogue and choppy scenes that plagues the Potter franchise. The uniquely British eccentricity remains intact and the film runs at a terrific pace: two hours speed by, while at times you genuinely sit on the edge of your seat.
Compared to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, this film is smaller and more heartwarming. Stardust will wrap you up and surprise you when it’s over. Even if you don’t think you like fantasy films you should check this out.