Screenplay by: Brian Helgeland
Starring: Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, William Hurt, Max von Sydow, Danny Huston, Mark Strong and Oscar Issac.
Summary Judgement: Robin Hood shows us that if you throw enough money at props and costuming, you can always make a mediocre movie.
Very minor spoilers ahead.
It is clear that Ridley Scott and screenwriter Brian Helgeland intended Robin Hood to be a true-to-history epic in the style of Gladiator. Great idea, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves set the bar so low that film students with a low-end Sony Handycam could produce something better. Sadly, I’m at a loss to decide if this film fares any better than the last entry into the English outlaw genre.
Robin Hood begins with Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston) and his crusader army pillaging their way across Europe. Set against the first salvo of a prolonged siege, we find Marcus Aurelius…sorry, King Richard pensively musing in his tent. When Richard decides to go mingle among his troops in search of “One Honest Man”, he comes upon Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe), brawling with his fellow crusaders. Apparently, I slept in on the day my medieval history seminar covered “Crusaders and the Shell Game”. I must have also missed the day when Dr. McDonald covered “Richard the Lionheart: A Giant Dickhead”. Thus, the narrative unfolds from Richard acting like a petulant pillock, rather than a noble hero. Historically accurate? Perhaps. Inspiring? Hardly. Good story telling? Not so much.
Desertion and identity theft advance the plot wherein Robin Longstride, posing as Sir Robin of Loxley, returns to England. At first, I enjoyed the film’s suggestion that the only thing separating nobility from the commons was a horse, shiny armour and rudimentary dental hygiene. Then things got silly. It is one thing to assume the airs of nobility through attire, enunciation and mannerisms. However, no amount of toothpaste and witty conversation with Maid Marion (Cate Blanchett) will turn a common archer into a chevalier. Are we really expected to believe, without even the benefit of a 80s style montage sequence, that an archer mastered the martial aspects of knighthood in only a few weeks? Perhaps Scott and Helgeland think that everybody from the 12th century knows how to swordfight on horseback. Oh, I should also mention that Crowe’s character is literate despite being orphaned as a child. Don’t ask me how that happened.
As if the film didn’t flay Robin Hood’s mythology enough, Scott and Helgeland decided to reboot Robin Hood’s politics. No longer is Robin Hood a pre-Marx socialist, robbing from the entitled rich and redistributing wealth as he sees fit. Instead, he joins with England’s Northern Barons in their appeal for a charter of rights against unjust taxation. I nearly vomited with disbelief as Maximus Decimus Meridius, ahem I mean Robin Hood uttered the phrase, “Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow”. Seriously, Robin Hood was a libertarian? Hey, Helgeland, I have two thoughts for you: first, stop stealing lines from Bioshock; second, will the director’s cut feature the Merry Men holding tea party placards with pictures of Obama-Hitler?
Despite a mood that is wholly incongruent with established mythology, the film does have a few strong aspects. Robin Hood does an excellent job at reproducing medieval England. Everything in the film is wonderfully dirty, including teeth. While the plot may have been contrived, the marvelously constructed sets and costumes were almost enough to make me forgive the film for its other flaws. The acting is at least average, perhaps even good at some points. The screen presence of Cate Blanchett, except towards the end when she is oddly recast as Elizabeth II, and Max von Sydow lend the film a feeling of maturity. They also give Robin Hood somebody to talk to as Little John (Kevin Durand), Friar Tuck (Mark Addy), Will Scarlet (Scott Grimes), Alan A’Dayle (Alan Doyle) and the Sherriff of Nottingham (Matthew Macfadyen) are complete throwaway characters. I recall hearing the Sherriff speak in two unimportant scenes. Sadly, these individual qualities are unable to come together in a fashion that elevates the film beyond mediocrity.
Perhaps Robin Hood is further evidence of something I’ve been mulling over since I first watched Kingdom of Heaven: What if Ridley Scott isn’t as brilliant as we all think he is? Allow me to take apart Blade Runner and Gladiator to illustrate my point. Blade Runner’s strength remains the enduring visual aesthetic of Los Angeles 2019. However, Blade Runner’s story is just a watered down version of Philip K. Dick’s novel. How about Gladiator? If you take the battles, guts and gore out of Gladiator, you’re left with about eighty minutes of sandal adorned revenge, incest and intrigue. Sure, it looks pretty, but so does HBO’s Rome. I’ll never doubt that Ridley Scott is a fantastically talented visual artist. However, I’m seriously starting to question if there’s anything more to him than that.
Criticisms of Oscar nominated film makers aside, Robin Hood remains a disappointment, not a huge disappointment, mind you. I was certainly nowhere near as disappointed with this film as when a young Adam Shaftoe wore his Terran Confederation flight jacket to go see Wing Commander. Ah Wing Commander. You know, I’ve never actually had somebody take a dump on me. Yet, I think I know it feels.
Robin Hood isn’t worth a visit to the theatres. A $3.99 pay-per-view rental will suffice for Mr. Scott’s latest offering.
Overall Score: 63%