There have been countless adaptions of the tale of English medieval anti-hero in Lincoln green, from the classic 1938 Errol Flynn swashbuckler via the shcottish Sean Connery in “Robin and Marian,” the, er, Californian with blonde highlights Kevin Costner for the 90s “Prince of Thieves” and its subsequent rip-off at the hands of Cary Elwes. Why there’s even been an animated Disney version with a fox playing the title role! So what could a new interpretation of the legend possibly have to offer? However when Ridley Scott decides to make a film (much like when Morgan Freeman talks) you sit up and take notice! Sir Ridley Scott as he’s rightly known is the undisputed master of the historical drama genre (1492: Conquest of Paradise, Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven) and with this latest entry I can gladly confirm those are two titles he can keep.
If what you expect is Russell Crowe running around Sherwood Forest at the helm of a bunch of loutish brutes charging to the rescue of the dashing maid Marian from the clutches of the evil Sheriff, be warned. Scott and his actor of choice have chosen here to explore and flesh out the back story before Robin Longstride became the man of legend. We therefore spend time with our hero on his return from the crusades with King Richard the Lionheart, besieging French castles and on the King’s untimely death battling against a scheming King John (Oscar Isaac – in wonderfully slimy mood), his taxes and politics. Returning to Nottingham he begins to learn about his past through Sir Walter Loxley (Max Von Sydow) who appoints him guardian of his house and husband to Marion played by Cate Blanchett – great as ever. Soon however it falls to him to unite a torn country in order to prevent a French invasion in the form of King Philip and bald and scarred baddie Mark Strong (Whom you may recognise from Sherlock Holmes). It all culminates at Dover with a French beach landing à la “Saving Private Ryan” and a fairly awesome cavalry charge. Needless to say the story plays havoc with history.
Whether or not you actually like this new Robin Hood or whether, critically, we can call it a good film depends I think on what the filmmakers set out to do. If Ridley Scott wanted to challenge our perceptions of the age-old myth and reinvent it for the 21st Century as it were then the film will most likely fall at the first hurdle. If however his sole aim was to make an entertaining action movie that is somewhat above the fodder summer blockbusters we’ve seen over the last few years (ie the kind that features rebooted superheroes or pale blood-sucking vampires with an average audience age of thirteen and a half), it’s easily the best thing since “The Dark Knight” two years back and so much more than the Gladiator-with-bows-and-arrows many were predicting. Because entertain the film certainly does: The battles are well staged, there’s at least some political intrigue to keep adults interested and medieval England looks fantastically grimy and a place full to the brim with adventure. There’s even a generous dose of humour in the form of the merry men, here reduced to the number of three, mainly Russell Crowe’s musical pals.
The characters too are generally quite three dimensional. While Robin certainly isn’t another Maximus and his goals are much more clear cut, Crowe plays it straight, not always the action hero yet not getting overly troubled or bogged down by having to sow some grain for Marion (in the field of course, it’s only 12A…) and her troubled homestead. Blanchett too does well as a woman who has had to become hard against the elements, her husband having disappeared to war two weeks after they were married. William Hurt and Max Von Sydow add the necessary gravitas which is a joy to watch but perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film is it’s villains. As mentioned the Sheriff of Nottingham is sidelined – although he makes an appearance and bears a little resemblance to Alan Rickman’s camp character! Instead Mark Strong rides around England falsely collecting taxes, creating unrest among the Britons and preparing for the French invasion.
The film is not without its problems of course. Comparisons with “Gladiator” are redundant as these are, to coin a phrase, two very different kettle of Ridley but there are some things that could have been done differently. It would have been nice to develop the character of King John’s lover, the French Isabella (Léa Seydoux) a little more and the same goes for Eileen Atkins’ Elanor of Aquitaine, the woman in whose hands the country would be a lot better off. Also disappointing was the marginalisation of a group of children that live as outlaws around Nottingham. Their role would have been interesting as this is what Robin himself will ultimately become.
To the score then. Marc Streitenfeld is a relative newcomer from Hans Zimmer’s cloning factory otherwise known as Media Ventures. This however is more than a little unfair as the music he has written is firstly, right for the period and secondly it definitely adds to the onscreen spectacle. A female voice floats above the carnage and some more traditional tunes are also heard from time to time. What struck me most was a sequence of repeating notes as a sort of danger-motif used usually when Strong’s character was riding onscreen. It is by far the most effective score of Streitenfeld’s career though some might criticize his relatively minimal approach, this composer does have future promise.
Robin Hood has flaws but when viewed as a piece of action entertainment it’s a pretty good movie. I’ve already thrown the word sequel around with my friends and this is certainly one of those rare instances were a sequel would be merited to explore the actual legend. But maybe that was never the idea behind Scott’s thinking and even standing alone I cannot but be impressed by the awesome visuals on screen. And although it has so far lost out to Iron Man 2 at the box office this is summer blockbuster filmmaking as it should be.
As you know this will be my last review until July. However please feel free to leave a comment with your feedback and thoughts, to share or subscribe to my blog. Thanks and au revoir!