Starring: Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Mark Strong, Max Von Sydow, William Hurt, Matthew Macfayden, Kevin Durand, Oscar Isaac, Mark Addy
Director: Ridley Scott
Writer: Brian Helgeland
Cinematography: John Mathieson
Original Score: Mark Streitenfeld
Running Time: 148 Mins.
Taking on the legend of Robin Hood was never going entail a simple retelling of the tale in the hands of Scott and Crowe, initially mooted as a film entitled Nottingham that would have seen Crowe a version of the Sheriff of Nottingham who simply used the idenitiy of Hood as a ruse, then the idea was shot down in favour of story that cast the Sheriff as the good guy and Robin as an out-and-out villain, an idea promptly discarded in favour of switching our perspectives back to Robin in what appeared on the surface to be a version of the legend we all know and love, albeit underpinned with some historical “fact” as is Ridley Scott’s will, ultimately Gladiator mk. 2.
As it turns out this is only half-true, yes the historical underpinning is there but the focus is not on Robin and his derring-do, robbing from the rich and all that jazz, rather this is Robin Begins, if you will! Opening with the crusades and seeing King Richard slain in battle, Robin Longstride (Crowe) is an archer in the king’s army and by some contrivance ends up on a ship back to England entrusted with returning the sword of Robin Loxley to his father and the crown to the weak Prince, now King, John. As it turns out Loxley Sr. (Von Sydow) knew Longstride’s father and fills him in on his long forgotten past. As a ruse Longstride takes the identity of Loxley Jr at the behest of his father in an effort to save Nottingham, and Loxley Jr’s estranged wife Lady Marion from falling under the demands for taxes. Oh … and Longstride’s father conveniently drew up a version of the Magna Carta, so have a guess what happens there…
If this all sounds rather heavy it really isn’t and is woven into a coherent and satisfying story befitting of any historical epic, the thing is the story of Robin Hood is by definition a legend and it is occasionally that this concept is at odds with what Scott is trying to achieve, it is like he doesn’t want to give in to the fact that something can be untrue and has an undying need to place everything within the bowels of historical “accuracy”. This is fine when your character is not legendary to the point of being a treasured as was the case with Maximus in Gladiator or Balian in Kingdom of Heaven but messing around with the tale of someone such as Robin Hood seems to deny the story its magic…to give in to a cliched, but accurate, term.
Thankfully it is married with a sense of fun, something all to often missing from the directors work, as willing as he is to linger on real people peppering the film, William Marshall (Hurt) and King John (Isaac), he isn’t afraid to spend time on those characters that are of Robin Hood lore. So there is Friar Tuck (Addy), wonderfully realised, as well as the three merry men, though they are never referred to as such, Allan Doyle, Scott Grimes and Kevin Durand, the camaraderie between them, and Robin, is great despite the humour usually mining the box marked crude or sexual, it is funny never-the-less. What this means ultimately is what many feared would become Gladiator Mk. 2 does not fall to such a fate and as such this film is as different to Gladiator as one would hope, in fact if you were to compare it to anything I would call to charge A Knight’s Tale, on a grander and slightly more serious scale!
One major plus comes in the maturity of this Robin, Crowe is in his 40’s and looks it adding a level of gravitas to the man, similarly Marian, Lady not Maid as she hastens to add, is great foil for Crowe’s gruff but never humour-less take. There is a rabble rousing speech, glimpsed in trailers, but it never feels forced and the more Robin Hood-y bits are a real treat, arrow firing aplenty and one ambush on a cart full of grain, hint at a film full of such treats directed with Scott’s usual panache and style. Perhaps, unsurprisingly, the Sheriff himself is underplayed to wonderful comic effect by Matthew MacFayden though it begs the question how he would serve as a villain in the possible sequel given his bumbling and weak demeanour though it was going to be a hard act for anyone to follow Alan Rickman, so kudos to MacFayden for trying.
All of which means the real baddies come in the form of Oscar Isaac’s King and primarily the treachourous Sir Gofrey (Mark Strong), the actor competes a trio of bad-guy turns (after Kick-Ass and Sherlock Holmes) and it must be said that sadly this is his weakest, often the best thing in a film through sheer magnitude he is down-played here playing the French off against the English and inciting unrest as is the main thrust of the film in which Robin becomes a pawn, sadly the lack of a more personal vendetta means Godfrey is simply a pawn and neither memorable enough to boo and hiss at nor a driving force enough to feel connected to the legendary story, all of which means that King John himself is the best of the bunch playing it just OTT enough with an edge of slyness to hint at a greater, more central, turn to come.
Though for all the good, of which there is a lot, and bad points there is a nagging sense that the film we really would have liked to see Scott tackle is the one hinted at in the closing 5 minutes, the real legend, in once sense it is admirable that the director and star sought to create a back story for the hero that does ring true in a sense and provides a great period film, but it is something that could well have been handled in the opening 40 minutes allowing for a solid hour and a half of “real” Robin Hood action, similar to other tellings it may have been but given how long we’ve waited for the latest incarnation that in itself is not a bad thing.
Robin Hood is not what you may expect, neither Gladiator in tights nor a classic take on the legendary tale, more something in-between with a lighter touch offering as entertaining a romp as you would expect from the Scott/Crowe camp , the very thing in fact that promises much of a sequel that I for one I hope we get to see.