Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Ridley Scott
Stars: Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, William Hurt, Mark Strong, Oscar Isaacs, Max Von Sydow, Mark Addy, Eileen Atkins, Danny Huston, Matthew MacFadyen, Kevin Durand, Scott Grimes, Alan Doyle, Lea Seydoux, Douglas Hodge, Robert Pugh, Gerard McSorley, Simon McBurney, Bronson Wedd
If you plan to see Ridley Scott’s reinvention of the legend of Robin Hood you can forget about those wonderful displays of swashbuckling swordplay and derring-do of Errol Flynn or Douglas Fairbanks jr here. Forget even the wonderful lighthearted humour and adventure of the popular Richard Greene television series of the ‘50’s. Ridley Scott’s big budget epic version of Robin Hood, the legendary outlaw who robbed from the rich and gave to the poor, is a fairly dour experience.
Screenwriter Brian Helgeland plays loose and fast with the legend of Robin Hood. This is essentially an origin story, giving us the backstory of how Robin became one of history’s most famous outlaw, forced to hide out in Sherwood Forest while eluding the armies of the tyrannical King John. This version of Robin Hood brings some contemporary touches to the familiar legend and is another example of Hollywood’s fanciful and woefully inaccurate treatment of history.
Robin Longstride (played by Russell Crowe) was an archer in the army of Richard the Lionheart during his crusades into Palestine. When the king is killed during a siege of a castle in France, Robin to return the fallen king’s crown back to England. He pretends to be the son of an English nobleman (a wasted Max Von Sydow), which brings him to the small village of Nottingham and its farming community.
Richard’s ambitious brother John (played by Oscar Isaac, who was last seen in Balibo) assumes the throne, and quickly begins to tax and plunder the oppressed people of England. The people have already suffered enough under Richard’s punitive taxes to pay for his crusades, and rebellion is in the air. John’s loyal confidante Godfrey (Mark Strong) however is in the employ of the French King Phillip. His vicious raids on the farms and villages of northern England turn the people against King John, and pave the way for Phillip to invade the divided country. Only an impassioned speech from Robin Hood unites the various villages of England against a common foe. He even leads the charge against the French army on a remote northern beach on England, repelling the intended invasion.
Braveheart got the epic battle scenes right, but Robin Hood gets them drastically wrong. Scott is usually a very good visceral and visually stylish director, as demonstrated through his films like The Duellists, Alien, Blade Runner, and even the gritty action movie Blackhawk Down. But here Scott fumbles badly. There are lots of close-ups and the sort of rapidly edited, frenetic visual style favoured by his brother Tony, that renders the fight scenes almost incomprehensible. Robin Hood comes across as something of a cross between Braveheart and Gladiator and Saving Private Ryan – especially as arrows fly into bodies splashing and tumbling helplessly under the water.
The CGI created castles and settings sometimes seem false. At a very generous 142 minutes, the film is too long, and there are several scenes that are slow and hint at unnecessary padding.
The film also suffers from miscasting of the title role. Crowe has a solid and credible physical presence, but he makes for a humourless, sombre Robin, and turns the iconic figure into a self-righteous bore. This is the fifth collaboration between Crowe and director Scott, and it is the weakest and least enjoyable. Cate Blanchett makes for a feisty Marion, and she even joins the climactic battle. Strong as usual makes a terrific screen villain, and he is good as the treacherous Godfrey, while Isaacs is also good as the duplicitous King John.
Robin Hood sets itself up for the inevitable sequel. Let’s hope that next time the film makers get the mix right and the sequel has plenty of that swashbuckling spirit and sense of adventure that characterised those old tales of Robin Hood and his merry men, who were “loved by the good, feared by the bad!”