By Mig Windows
Gladiator Oscar winners Sir Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe take a big dump on history in this gritty, big-budget reboot of the legend of the Sherwood outlaw. Don’t expect to see the usual antics of Robin Hood films of yore: there are few tights, little swashbuckling, and exactly one caravan is robbed during the entire film.
The plot, if you could call it that, makes little sense. Most of the action takes place after the death of King Richard (a dreadlocked Danny Huston who is regrettably barely in the film). This means that the King will not be available later in the film to save Robin Hood from persecution by the scenery chewing Prince John (Oscar Isaac), who would surely twirl his mustache were it long enough.
What it all boils down to is creative differences. The original screenwriters wrote a revisionist spec script called “Nottingham,” where the Sheriff was sympathetic and Robin Hood more villainous. Director Ridley Scott wanted to make a historically accurate movie about the Crusades (again). Star Russell Crowe wanted to play a hero. More screenwriters were hired (Brian Helgeland, Paul Webb, and Tom Stoppard), and what we’re left with is a polished but flawed epic prequel to the legend – ridiculous since Crowe, at 45, is the oldest actor to play Robin Hood in a film; he is a year older than Sean Connery was when he filmed Robin and Marion in 1976, and that film was about a retired Robin Hood trying to woo a middle-aged Marion one last time.
Scott assembled a very good cast, for the most part. Crowe may look old and silly as Robin Hood, but is still preferable to Kevin Costner’s performance in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Cate Blanchett nearly saves the movie with her subtle and classy Marion Loxley, suppressing the urge to snicker Crowe’s ridiculous costumes.
A bald Mark Strong shows up to look menacing and bash things as an over-the-top villain, which is definitely his element. Max von Sydow plays Marion’s blind (and inexplicably Swedish) father-in-law who spews his clichéd lines with dignity. A few chuckles are provided by Little John, Will Scarlet, Alan-a-Dale and Friar Tuck, (Kevin Durand, Scott Grimes, Alan Doyle, and Mark Addy, respectively), though they do seem at times to be a recycling of the motley crew of screenwriter Helgeland’s earlier film, A Knight’s Tale, including the re-casting of Addy in a similar role. The Sheriff, who was originally going to be the lead character in this film, is reduced to a petty drunkard with five lines played by a confused-looking Matthew MacFadyen, who only succeeds in frightening the girls in the audience who remember him as the dashing Mr. Darcy in 2005’s Pride and Prejudice.
All of Scott’s meticulous attention to historical details (i.e. the preparation of chain mail, accurate costumes and props, etc) do not excuse the non-existent battle in the third act of the film. The French have not been painted so stereotypically since Pepe la Pew. They are given no motivation for behaving evilly; they just do. They attempt a land invasion at the end of the film and are defeated only by Crowe’s obstinate defiance of
the laws of physics, and Marion briefly forgetting that she is not Eowyn from The Lord of the Rings.
With all that said, this is technically perhaps the best Robin Hood film ever made, but that is simply because there are so few good Robin Hood movies out there. The camerawork, costumes, lighting, and all of the technical aspects are well done, but it lacks the fun of the classic 1939 The Adventures of Robin Hood with Errol Flynn, or the grittiness of Scott’s earlier Crusades pic, Kingdom of Heaven (2005).
But hey, at least this version of Robin Hood doesn’t sport an abundance of 80s music and mullets, which is really saying something.