Directed by Ridley Scott
Starring Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, William Hurt, Max Von Sydow, Danny Huston, Mark Strong, Kevin Durand, Oscar Isaac, Matthew Macfadyen and Mark Addy
For any lovers of epic, historic blockbusters who appreciate the finer details of their colossal productions and grand potential for cinematic genius, Robin Hood had to be the most exciting release of the year. Directed by veteran Ridley Scott whose impressive portfolio stretches from the classics (Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma and Louise) to the epics (Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven) and who has tackled everything short of a romantic comedy along the way, taking on a new Robin Hood was no surprise. Writing credits belong to accomplished screenwriter Brian Helgeland who wrote the screenplays for acclaimed films LA Confidential and Mystic River and the casting is the usual who’s who of academy award winners, nominees as well as old and new familiar faces to make up the supporting roles.
As far as origin stories go, Robin Hood is a good one. Taking place in 13th Century France, the careful historic approach is made clear from the opening battle sequence where the siege of a castle is just another day for common archer Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) and his friend Little John. They stroll up to do their job fighting for King Richard The Lionheart (Danny Huston) who isn’t interested in the efforts of the soldiers beneath him and assumes they serve out of love and admiration. When the King is killed, Longstride and his men make for the boats home, disguised as knights of the realm carrying the crown back to England. When they return, Longstride chooses to fulfil the dying wish of Sir Robin Loxley to have his sword returned to his blind father Sir Walter Loxley (amazingly good Max Von Sydow) in Nottingham. Of course, the war effort has left most of the country in ruin and Richard’s successor Prince John turns out to be a tyrant who employs the services of Sir Godfrey (Mark Strong) over the wise chancellor William Marshall (William Hurt). This sets the perfect environment for a hero to rise up against injustice, not yet as Robin Hood, but under the guise of legitimate nobility as Sir Robin Loxley.
If the goal of Scott was to build a base for a successful film franchise of a re-imagined icon of literature (which is all the rage at the moment- Batman, Sherlock Homes), it is new ground for the director as he has barely made a sequel in his career. While arguments will be made about the commercial motivations behind this, the politics innate to the Robin Hood story are the blunt philosophies that Scott seems to gravitate towards in many of his bigger budget films. Usually his hero is a broken man, a commoner (or wishes to be) who rises above this station to be able to speak for the rights of the common man in matters of democracy and freedom of speech or religion (think Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven). The Robin Hood story has been told so many times over the last century and is so familiar to people that Scott has a perfect foundation for some delving into the heart of what makes the outlaw so appealing to us commoners. It is not Christopher Nolan’s visionary The Dark Night, but it’s certainly on the right track.
Ridley Scott films, with all the variables that come with such massive productions, still seem to retain a sort of harmonious effect of all the parts coming together so unnoticeably towards a both elegant and grimy visual style. The meticulous approach to mise-en-scene with its complex flourishes of historic paraphernalia, hundreds of extras filling wide frames and his acute attention to spatial detail are what set him apart from the duds of history. Stars like Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett typically fade into the background, with no room in Scott’s fantastic world to jump out of the screen. The biggest success of Gladiator and the biggest failure of Kingdom of Heaven was the strength of the lead role and it is interesting that Crowe is somewhat flat during Robin Hood considering its writer, Brian Helgeland. Powerful characters and their development is usually his interest, recently turning the remake of The Taking of Pelham 123 into one long conversation between two men on criminal semantics amid an equally shifty playfield. Think of what he did to Crowe’s ‘Bud’ character in LA Confidential or any character of Mystic River! Robin and Russell both needed a lower profile anyway. In the absence of strong characters, Scott makes the landscape and epic sets the heroes of this film, shot in various woods, beaches and custom-built castles around the UK. He knows that beautiful scenery goes a long way, especially evident in his love of having the hero prove himself through small, personal skirmishes in eerie European forests during wintertime (think of the early fight scenes of Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven).
There are a few annoying moments such as the inclusion of maid Marion in a cavalry charge, having travelled to the battle hidden in exactly the same way as Eowyn does in Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. However it is good to see a strong female character back in a Ridley Scott film, it’s been too long since Ripley outlived an alien or Lt Jordan O’Neil (G.I. Jane) showed the men how it’s done. The music is mostly lute and drum-based folksy sing-alongs, the massive cast is fine with moments of genius (Max Von Sydow) and the script is entirely acceptable. Robin Hood is one of those films that will leave you satisfied but far from stirred. It simply fails to push the complete sum of its parts into a film of such unsubtle power and breathtaking scope of say…Gladiator? That might be unfair, but at least sequels will ensure Crowe and Scott stay busy on action films and not romantic dramas set in the south of France.
You will love this if: You think dazzling visuals and deeper political questionings are the best way to approach the story of Robin Hood and his merry men.
You will hate this if: You’re a film snob or hate Russell Crowe too much as a person to enjoy any film that he is in.
Robin Hood is now showing in wide release.