I went into this film with a “show me” attitude, but I freely admit it won me over. In spite of a few quibbles, I came away entertained. Perhaps the best compliment I can pay to director Ridley Scott, screenwriter Brian Helgeland, and their cast is that I didn’t find myself comparing their work to Robin Hoods past. They have managed to put their stamp on a familiar tale without completely subverting it.
One reason their movie stands apart is that it endeavors to tell the origin of Robin Hood rather than simply repeating the usual story. The action begins as our hero is fighting for his King, Richard the Lionheart, who is pillaging his way through France on his way back home from the Crusades. One by one we meet the characters who will play crucial roles in the Robin Hood legend-to-come, as well as—
—new figures who matter most in this pre-history.
Russell Crowe has all the right ingredients to play this heroic figure—physicality, personal charisma, and sincerity, whether declaiming noble thoughts or sly asides. He’s believable as a leader and as a lover. Cate Blanchett is a perfect choice to play his Marian, the kind of woman who can stand toe-to-toe with such a hero, earning both his respect and ours.
The large supporting cast is peppered with familiar faces and newcomers alike, from Mark Addy as Friar Tuck to the current cinema’s go-to villain, Mark Strong (Sherlock Holmes, The Young Victoria, Kick-Ass), as the principal bad guy; he certainly commands the screen. But it’s a couple of acting veterans who show us what decades of experience can bring to the party: Eileen Atkins, as the proud Elinor of Aquitaine, and Max von Sydow, as Blanchett’s father-in-law, who plays a fateful role in our hero’s evolution. At 81, von Sydow dominates every scene he’s in, as his role is designed to do; he offers humor, heart, and authority to a character you won’t find (to my knowledge) in any previous Robin Hood.
The sets and Welsh locations are impressive, and the action scenes are gritty and forceful. When these arrows find their targets, you can feel the victims’ pain. Only the finale, a spectacular battle at water’s edge, feels out of place, as if it belonged in some other movie. I’m sure I’m not the only person who will be reminded of Saving Private Ryan (I won’t go into details), an unwelcome distraction that isn’t helped by the most obvious CGI effects in the film—and a couple of helicopter shots that drive home the incongruity. It’s also around this time that the movie starts feeling long.
Moviegoers won’t be able to complain that they haven’t gotten their money’s worth: this Robin Hood delivers an abundance of action and story, but its real value is the human element provided by its principal actors. It’s that aspect of the legend that has captured our imagination for years, and fortunately, it hasn’t been forgotten here. Robin Hood may not be a great film—and it certainly won’t displace other versions of the story for all time—but it has much to enjoy, for longtime fans of the story and newcomers alike.
To revisit other Robin Hoods worth remembering click HERE.
Ridley Scott’s “Robin Hood” is neither as good as the director’s personal best period epic, “Gladiator,” nor a match for Hollywood’s most memorable previous accounts of the beneficent bandit of Sherwood Forest. …