Robin Hood (2010) dir. Ridley Scott
Starring: Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Mark Strong, William Hurt, Max Von Sydow
By Alan Bacchus
A long time ago I ceased to expect anything on the level of Alien or Blade Runner from Mr. Scott. While his filmography is peppered with legitimately fine films such as Thelma and Louise, Black Hawk Down, Hannibal even Matchstick Men (!), his late career output seems to be more disappointments. So I refuse to be 'disappointed' by a Ridley Scott film anymore, only surprised. And so without any pressure Robin Hood isn’t half bad – but not exactly a ringing endorsement either.
If I put to paper all the criticisms I have of this film compared to what I liked about it, i would be inclined to assign a 2 star rating or even less. But there’s an infectious energy to the picture and a couple of decent action sequences for it to satisfy. Sure it has a bloated running time way past the 120min mark. And sure, it still feels like there are large chunks of plotting and character development missing. And sure it’s another typical brooding dour and humourless performance from Russell Crowe. And sure Crowe and Blanchett are just way too old to play these characters, but let’s not dwell on what the film should have been and focus on the positives.
Sir Ridley and his scribe Brian Helgeland make a clear point to replace the traditional frolicking and swashbuckling adventure story of Curtiz/Flynn variety for a more complex-plotting multi-character narrative weaving in the actual history of the time, that is, the war between England and France, the end of the Crusade and the signing of the Magna Carta.
The action starts out with Robin Longstride, as RH was then known, as an archer in King Richard the Lionsheart’s army, on their way home from their 10 year Crusade – an endeavour which has financially crippled the land. Not understanding economics very well King John feels pressure to tax the people more to bring money in to fight off the surging French.
Sick of fighting for Richard’s ignoble ideals Robin escapes to Nottingham where Robin finds himself assuming the identity of his fallen commander Robert Loxsley, late husband to none other than Maid Marian. And so a reluctant courtship ensues, during which time he witnesses first hand the troubles the King's policies are causing, eventually leading to Robin joining forces with John to fight off the invading French.
This is the just tip of the iceberg. There’s a hell of a lot of plot going on, and though Helgeland’s writing makes everything clear there’s just not enough time to give adequate attention to everything and everyone. What’s lost are the fundamental elements of the Robin Hood story we know and love. There’s little if any robbing from the rich to giving to the poor, the traditional characters are there, including Marian, King John but also Little John, Will Scarlett, Alan O’Dale, Friar Tuck. But unfortunately these compatriots have little character or personality other than the fact that Little John is huge, Scarlett has red hair, O’Dale is a musician and Friar Tuck is fat.
But here I am laying out the criticisms again.... The best performance in the film is actually Max Von Sydow, as the blind Walter Loxley. Von Sydow had the misfortunate lately of being wasted on underwhelming roles in Shutter Island and Minority Report. But as a blind father figure to Robin he becomes the heart and soul of the film.
But what really matters is that Ridley's action scenes have flare and spectacle. Especially the final beach battle between Robin, the English army and the nasty Frenchmen which reminds us of the great finale to El Cid. Every time Russell launches his arrow at someone, or rides his horse with speed through the forest it’s fun, as such I'm OK with this film.
Robin Hood is available on Blu-Ray from Universal Studios Home Entertainment