Cate Blanchett and Russell Crowe in Robin Hood.
When I was young we owned a series of children's classic books that included Robin Hood. I loved that Robin Hood book and reread it countless times. No movie or television version of the Hooded Man has ever lived up to my memory of the stories told in that book. Sure, Errol Flynn's version is great and the 1980s ITV series of Robin of Sherwood was really good, but they still failed to fire my imagination to the same heights. And the less said about Kevin Costner's portrayal and the pathetic recent BBC series the better. I wish I could say that Ridley Scott's interpretation with Russell Crowe as Robin Hood was finally the version the met my expectations, but I can't. In fact, although his version is a superior film to many other takes on Robin, it actually bears very little resemblance to the original legend apart from the names.
The movie starts with Robin Longstride, a common archer in King Richard's army, returning with the King and the army to England. Richard is keen to earn some money on the way home so he pillages as he travels. He pillages one time too many though and ends up dead. Not before locking up Robin for speaking his mind about the innocence of the Muslims that they'd killed in the Holy Land (which seems like a much too modern sentiment for the film thrown in so as not to offend Muslims). After Richard's death Robin escapes and ends up back in England disguised as Sir Robert of Loxley and carrying the King's Crown, which he picked up along the way along with the disguise.
Instead of living the life of an outlaw in Sherwood Forest, Robin ends up living in a castle in Nottingham with the Loxleys where he'd traveled to return a sword. Robert's father wants Robin, whom he takes a shine to, to pretend to be his son so that he will have a male heir and his daughter-in-law Marian won't be kicked off the estate upon his death. Marian doesn't take to the idea right away, but soon warms to it and Robin.
Although King John is around and as big a dick as he's usually portrayed to be in these stories, the Sheriff of Nottingham is only briefly shown and mainly as a joke. The real villain of the film is Godfrey (played by Mark Strong who's making a career lately of playing villains). Godfrey is an Englishman who is betraying his people to the French for no very strongly given reason. His actions however lead to a sort of medieval D-Day with the French storming the beaches of England.
I actually generally enjoyed this movie, but I kept waiting for it to become a Robin Hood movie. I assumed that once Robin and his band returned to England that they would end up in Sherwood robbing from the rich and giving to the poor, but they don't. In fact there's only one scene in the film that comes close to that when they rob a cart of grain from some churchmen. It isn't until the very last scene of the movie that it comes close to looking anything like the more traditional Robin Hood film that I came to see, but I didn't want to have to wait until the sequel to actually see it.
The cast is all fine, but uninspired. Crowe and Blanchett are both great actors but their parts aren't very demanding. Robin's merry men provide some comic relief but are only given very minor roles. William Hurt shows up in a small role for some baffling reason. Were all the English character actors busy that weekend? The leads are already being played by Aussies, couldn't the rest of the cast at least be played by Brits?
Scott does know how to stage action sequences and the battles are well done. There should have been more of them, but the ones that are in the movie are well filmed and executed.
I've accepted that I'm never going to see a Robin Hood movie that lives up to my childhood memories I just hoped that this one would get a lot closer to them than it did.
No offense intended, but I always picture a younger Robin and Marion, or at least younger acting.
My brother was bothered by this being a prequel to Robin becoming an outlaw. I, on the other hand, was interested in how it worked as a sequel to The Lion in Winter. Several characters from it have significant roles here. They act in the same manner. Eleanor is sly and manipulative. John and Richard bad mouth each other. Phillip seizes on an opportunity. It does not mention Henry.
Brian Helgeland has written such great screenplays as L.A. Confidential and A Knight’s Tale. His story for Robin Hood provides plenty of opportunity for action scenes. You never have to wait too long for the next fight. However, he does seem to over complicate what is a very simple story. Why make Robin pretend to be Marion’s husband? Why could he not have just been her spouse all along, who went off to the crusades, and then returned?
The movie starts with a scene of lost boys, who live in the woods, robbing Marion. It is briefly explained that they are the sons of men who went to the crusades. Their appearance in the climactic battle was ridiculous. They certainly could have been used at some other point in the story in another capacity, but to have them arrive on tiny ponies seconds behind the men astride horses, does not make sense. Marion would have had to find, collect, organize, convince and arm them. How did she even know where the landing was taking place? Why would she have her own armor?
Ridley Scott is a bleeding heart liberal, and like in Kingdom of Heaven, he treats the Christian church badly. Marion yells at a clergy after he greedily refuses to give her any grain seed. Friar Tuck makes his own beer, and loves to party. As my brother wrote, this movie has a scene that apologizes to Muslims, while it never apologizes for all the scenes of men robbing and destroying Christian churches.
Robin Hood is a good movie but not a great one. Helgeland and Scott make a simple adventure story into an allegory of modern politics. Many characters speak of socialist type equality. The King is greedy, and harsh on taxes. The crusades, (war) in the Middle East speaks for itself. It is too much. I will sooner watch the Errol Flynn version, or The Lion in Winter, before spending another 220 minutes on this.
Photos © Copyright Universal Pictures (2010)