A film review by Craig J. Koban May 18, 2010
2010, PG-13, 131 mins.
2010, PG-13, 131 mins.
Robin: Russell Crowe / Marion: Cate Blanchett / Sir Walter: Max
von Sydow / William Marshal: William Hurt / Godfrey: Mark
Strong / Prince John: Oscar Isaac / Richard: Danny Huston
have been so many cinematic permutations of the Robin Hood legend that I
have totally lost count over the years.
A cursory bit of research on my part has uncovered more than 30
Hollywood treatments of the mythical folk hero that stole from the rich in
order to give to the poor, with perhaps three standing out: the boisterous and
lively 1938 Technicolor classic THE ADVENTURES OF THE ROBIN HOOD with
Errol Flynn (arguable the most entertaining), 1976’s ROBIN AND MARION
(featuring Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn as middle-aged lovers) and, yes, the much maligned
1991 ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES, featuring a very
American – in voice and sprit – Kevin Costner.
When I heard that yet another ROBIN HOOD film was to be made, I initially balked at the idea: what fresh angle could possibly be embedded in a newer treatment for 21st Century consumption that has not already been tried? Then I heard that director Ridley Scott and star Russell Crowe planned to make a new HOOD film their fifth collaboration together and that was enough to wet my initial appetitive. Scott is essentially one of the most technically astute filmmakers of all-time and is able to mould his style to just about any subject matter and time period, and Crowe himself has a proven resume for handling tough, rugged, and courageous action heroes.
This should be a match made in Nottingham-heaven.
new film version of the title hero and his band of merry men is
essentially a reboot and an origin story (think ROBIN HOOD BEGINS) and
serves as a prequel, of sorts, to the overriding Robin Hood mythology that
most lay people are familiar with. This
re-imagining (provided by the very capable screenwriter Brian Helgeland (GREEN
MYSTIC RIVER, and L.A. CONFIDENTIAL), attempts to integrate together the
centuries-old mythology with history, which is one part of the film’s
undoing: the 13th Century outlaw owes more to fiction than fact, so any
heavy handed attempt to submerge him within the context of history seems kind of
Helgeland and Scott seem so immersed and steadfast in cementing the
character within actual history that it has the unfortunate side-effect of
making their Robin Hood a persona that is a victim to a ponderous, dull, and
at times painfully slow moving picture.
There are clear cut attempts to make this version breathe with the gritty
and battle-logged aesthetic of, say, GLADIATOR, but in doing so the film
misses some serious opportunities to be frivolously fun, spirited, and
carry an aura of swashbuckling adventure and excitement.
Instead of being magical, cheerful and light-hearted (with just the
right nuance for it not to feel campy), ROBIN HOOD is dour and dreary to
the point of inspiring ample watch-checking.
Not a good sign for any ROBIN HOOD film.
ROBIN HOOD begins by introducing us to Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) as a loyal and dependable archer to King Richard the Lionheart (the commanding, but underused Danny Huston). During a particularly problematic siege of a French castle, the King is killed, but Robin and his comrades obtain his crown and vow to return it to London so that Price John (Oscar Isaac) can assume his rightful place on the English thrown. John, right from the get-go, is a fairly shady and duplicitous cretin and his main goal when he becomes King is to make money, via any means necessary. He appoints a man named Godfrey (Mark Strong, always coldly authoritative, even when playing underwritten roles like this) to oversee tax collecting, but he is secretly working for the King of France, which complicates matters considerably.
Godfrey and Robin find themselves as bitter enemies, especially when
Godfrey makes an attack against Nottingham, a village where Robin has
sought refuge and has established the identity as the son of Sir Walter
Loxley (Max Von Sydow). Sir
Walter was a friend of Robin’s real father, who in turn was assassinated
for writing a charter of rights for the common man (Robin’s memories of
this and his dad are some of the film’s most unhealthily developed
subplots). When Robin arrives
in Nottingham he hatches a plan to impersonate Sir Walter’s son (whom was
killed in battle) in order to protect his widow, Marion (a feisty and
sassy Cate Blanchett) and her property.
Romance between Robin and Marion is initially and predictably
mellow, but it later brews with a passion (albeit rather mechanically)
until Robin, his loyal confidants (which include many familiar faces to
Hood lore), Marion, and a battalion of British forces find themselves in a
bloody battle with Godfrey and the French forces that are trying to invade
anyone cries foul, here me out: Yes, the most basic of Robin Hood
elements are all here in abundance: Robin is still a master of stealth and
of the bow and arrow. Yes,
his famous “merry men” that includes the likes of Little John (the
not-so-little Kevin Durand) and Friar Tuck (Mark Addy) are here.
Yes, Nottingham is a prominent place in the film, and, yes, there
still remains a Sheriff of Nottingham (Matthew Macfayden).
Yet, ROBIN HOOD seems oddly overstuffed when it comes to its
characters and focus. The
Sheriff himself, for example, has usually been the obligatory villain of
this universe, but here his role is so small and so inconsequentially
written that he could have been excised from the film altogether.
The same can be true of one of Prince John’s Barons (played well,
but all-too-briefly by William Hurt) who shows up here and there in the
film when the script deems it convenient.
The only intriguing character of the lot is arguably Godfrey, but his
motives are so sketchily hinted at that we have to kind of remind ourselves
that he is the chief bad guy.
film, at 140 minutes, at times feels like 240.
Despite an action-packed opening section, ROBIN HOOD becomes
narratively sluggish and slow moving as it progresses, not to mention
that, despite its inherent length, it never truly feels as epic in terms
of story scope as it wants to be. There
are certainly historical-political flourishes sprinkled through the plot
to give the film some thematic weight, but adding these dimensions only
further neuters the type of infectious gallantry and derring-do that
audiences, no doubt, crave out of these types of films. All of this
silly attention to historical realism has stunted one obvious element: fun.
film also fails at generating a legitimate emotional buy-in to the
underlining material. By the time Robin et al are engaging in a
ferocious beach battle against Godfrey and the French, I found it hard to
really care (not to mention that the climax generates some real
incredulous eye-rolling when it is revealed that Marion, completely clad
in armor, has joined her lover on the battlefield…sure…yup…uh-huh).
Then there is the central romance between Robin and Marion
themselves, and even though I like Blanchett’s feistiness and enthusiasm
as Marion, the film rarely creates a plausible impression of love between
the two. There is a semi-kinky moment during which Marion assists
Robin with removing his chain mail armor, but even moments like that fail
to have any understated eroticism. The
Robin and Marion in this film fall in love more because of the
contrivances of the plot than out of an innate and mutual feeling of
affection for one another. When they do lock lips late in the film and Robin tells her
he that loves her, it feels insincere and half-hearted.
of the largest weakness of ROBIN HOOD may be the actor playing the legend
himself. Crowe certainly has
nothing to prove in terms of his action hero street cred, but the
closing-in-on-50 performer is the oldest to ever play Robin Hood, and it
is his maturity and solemnity that seems a bit at odds with the capricious
icon himself. There is rarely a false moment in Crowes’ performance here
(he is as stalwart and dependable as ever), but he creates such a generically
brooding and flat portrait of the hero that he never emerges as a joyously
alive creation. What he lacks
is a sense of youthful enthusiasm and reckless spontaneity and whimsy.
Just think of what a younger and more charmingly mischievous actor
like, for example, Paul Bettany or Michael Fassbender could have done with
the role. See what I mean?
Crowe is one of our greatest movie talents, but his long-time
association with Scott should not have automatically precluded his
involvement in ROBIN HOOD: he’s simply miscast here.
the film certainly lacks in high-flying and thrilling exuberance it does
make up for in terms of technical aptitude: Scott has never made a bad looking
picture, and in ROBIN HOOD he once again shows supreme command at given us
action set pieces that we have come to expect out of him: we get flaming
arrows, clashing swords, galloping horses, battering rams, battalions of
human (and CGI) warriors, and all-out wanton medieval mayhem that has made
Scott such a directorial taskmaster (the final siege at the film’s
conclusion is lavish and epically envisioned, even though the actual
action is, at times, tricky to follow).
Scott knows how to make a ROBIN HOOD that looks every part of its
multi-million dollar summer-blockbuster budget, but as rich and textured
as the film appears, its story juxtaposed around the visual sheen is just a
hollow vessel that left me feeling empty.
The film’s end title cards are ominously noteworthy: “And so the legend begins…” Huh? I was kind of expecting that the legend would begin from the opening frame. Instead of hurtling viewers headfirst into a newly revitalized and envisioned Robin Hood film universe, this movie takes the cumbersome and ultimately dime-a-dozen approach of giving us a token origin story with a promise of high adventure to come without fulfilling that promise. ROBIN HOOD is not so much a dreadful film as it is a totally squandered opportunity to breath new life into an age-old myth. Just consider the original story treatment of the film, entitled NOTTINGHAM, which had the Sheriff and Robin Hood engaging in role reversal with the former being the sympathetic hero and the latter being more the traditional villain.
Now that would be worth seeing.