Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe come together once again to create a a film about one man’s bloody journey to martyrdom. Sound familiar? Fans of Gladiator should like the look of this film, and fans of Braveheart should like the story (at one point
I’ll give Scott credit for trying to do a different type of Robin Hood film. Rather than focus on Robin and the outlaws of Sherwood Forest, the script by Brian Helgeland focuses entirely on the journey of a young archer from the Crusades to enemy of the crown. The entirety of the film (140 minutes) is dedicated to showing how Robin Hood came into being. Of course that means that the film entitled Robin Hood is missing one important ingredient – Robin Hood himself.
In something of a misstep Helgeland’s script (based on the story by Helgeland, Ethan Reiff , and Cyrus Voris) over-complicates the basic Robin Hood legend to the point that we actually need nearly two-and-a-half hours just to untangle all the knots and get to the point which could, and should, have been easily reached in a third of the time. The simple tale of a former nobleman robbing the rich to give to the poor has become anything but.
In fact, our Robin isn’t a British noble, nor is his name Loxley. Robin Longstride (Crowe) is an archer in King Richard’s (Danny Huston) army. An honest soul, in a world of scoundrels and thieves (and just in case you missed that the script will make sure to spell it out again, on multiple occasions). Longstreet deserts after the king falls in battle, and uses the guise of fallen knight Robert Loxley (Douglas Hodge) to get his men passage back to England.
Fulfilling the dying knight’s final request Longstride returns the knight’s sword back to his father (Max von Sydow) only to be offered a chance to extend his role and act as the elder Loxley’s son allowing Robert’s widow Marion (Cate Blanchett) to keep her lands. No “maid” Marion here.
There’s also the newly crowned King John (Oscar Isaac), complete with the expected inferiority complex, who cares more for pleasures of the flesh and gathering taxes than ruling justly. And we mustn’t forget the film’s baddie (no, it’s not John) the duplicitous Godfrey (Mark Strong) who attempts to use his friendship with the king to weaken the realm and allow an invading French army to take Britain.
Robin Hood feels like a tremendously well-produced television pilot for a show we’re never going to get to see. It’s only in the last ten minutes of the film that the various strands come together and Robin Hood becomes the outlaw we’ve been waiting more than two hours to see.
Crowe is well cast as this version of Hood, and Blanchett (no stranger to this type of role) is a nice compliment. Though it’s far from the Robin and Marion relationship of legend, as a love story for this style of film it works well enough. I wish I could say the same for Robin’s band of merry men who are so interchangeable (with the possible exception of Kevin Durand as Little John) that they are almost completely forgettable.
One script choice I enjoyed was the portrayal of Richard the Lionheart to be be not the unseen savior, as he appears in so many Robin Hood films, but a egomaniacal bastard whose pride led to his own downfall. His death early on also removes any hope of a returning king to put events right before the credits role.
There are also a pair of well-crafted battle scenes, along with numerous skirmishes. There’s a fair bit more large scale war than many may be expecting from a film with this title, but it’s well done.
Robin Hood isn’t a bad movie, but it takes far too long to get where it’s going. For a character with such a breadth of history, even with this fresh perspective, the film is actually quite dull at times and does little to add anything of substance. For those looking for substitutes I’d recommend both Gladiator and Braveheart as similar, though far better, films. Or, if you’d like Robin Hood with more flair, may I suggest the recent BBC series, Disney’s animated version, the classic Errol Flynn, and the more comic Hood-themed Court Jester with Danny Kaye and Basil Rathbone.