Peter Eramo Reviews: “Robin Hood” (***)
May 24, 2010 8 Comments
I must admit that the initial reviews for this film made me somewhat wary of going to see it. And looking at the somewhat disappointing box-office returns through two weeks of the $200+ million blockbuster film, I think it has made many of the movie-going public wary of going, which is too bad because Ridley Scott’s “Robin Hood” is a beautifully made and exciting new take on the legend we all know. Scott and screenwriter Brian Helgeland (“Mystic River” and “L.A. Confidential“) take a step back and have chosen not re-hash the same “robs from the rich” legend we’re all familiar with. Rather, they give us the story of how Robin Hood actually became an outlaw in the first place; a tale maybe we’re all not so very familiar with. At the end of the film, the titles read: “And So The Legend Begins,” setting the audience up for the proverbial Robin Hood myth that follows (and a sure-to-be-made sequel as well).
An archer fighting in the army of Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston), Robin Hood and his companions decide to return home to England, and along the way, come upon Robert of Loxley who is fatally wounded by Godfrey (a diabolical, intense Mark Strong). Godfrey is in the process of assisting a French invasion of England and manages to trick the newly crowned King John into making him think he’s working on England’s behalf. Robin Hood (Russell Crowe) promises the dying Robert of Loxley that he will return his most cherished sword back to his father, Walter Loxley in Nottingham (played with tremendous humor and pathos by the brilliant Max von Sydow). The sword has an enigmatic inscription on it that pre-occupies Robin throughout. We learn that Robin Hood never knew much about his own father past the age of 6 and he struggles with himself to come to grips with his abrupt disappearance. Upon his return to Nottingham, the elderly Walter adopts him as his own and encourages Robin Longstride to impersonate his dead son and marry Marion (Cate Blanchett) or else the King will seize the land. Marion Loxley has just learned (after 10 long years) that her husband is not coming back, so this is a bit of a transition for her and she takes this new situation somewhat begrudgingly.
Meanwhile, we watch as Godfrey brutally pillages towns across the country under the pretext of collecting taxes for King John (Oscar Isaac). We can clearly see what kind of man King John is and what type of leader he will make right from the beginning and this continues throughout in his confrontational scenes with his mother (Eileen Atkins), to his treatment of the wise and loyal William Marshal (William Hurt) to how he treats his people. Robin Hood and Marion adapt to one another and Walter’s mirth is re-energized. He tells Robin that yes, he did know his father, who helped try to build a stronger, more liberalized society. A raid is made on Nottingham and there is a final battle between Godfrey and his men pitted against Robin Hood, King John and the English. After fighting bravely and faithfully for his land, Robin Hood is now seen as a threat to his people when King John ruthlessly declares him an outlaw. Thus, a legend is born.
Overall, this is a very entertaining, visually stunning film with an epic feel to it. I enjoyed it much more than I had anticipated. The costumes are exquisite, the locations and production design, authentic, and Marc Streitenfeld’s score, majestic. The film has its share of action and battle scenes, romance and some nicely incorporated humor in it as well. The performances too are excellent. Russell Crowe makes a fine Robin Hood; he is strong and has a regal presence to him. He shows strength or vulnerability, whatever is needed. Max von Sydow is a breath of fresh air, William Hurt (as always) is terrific as William Marshal and we understand and feel for his trial throughout. Mark Addy plays Friar Tuck and he adds a nice touch of humor to the well-known character. Mark Strong plays a great villain – his overall look and demeanor fit quite well as the foil to Robin Hood. And like Joaquin Phoenix in “Gladiator” (another Scott film), Oscar Isaac’s King John is a spoiled, frightened little man who happens to wear the crown. Isaac does a wonderful job with it and we laugh at and detest him throughout. As for Cate Blanchett, I have mixed feelings. An extraordinary actress, to be sure, but I feel either she was simply miscast here or that Scott’s take on Marion may have been a bit rough around the edges. She seems too tough, too macho and her chemistry with Crowe seems a bit forced.
Some of the action sequences are difficult to follow and in the final battle, it does get a bit hokey for its own good (“For the love of God, Marion!” Robin Hood screams out when he sees his true love). Robin Hood’s slow-motion rise from the depths of the water and Marion exclaiming, “This is for you, Walter” were all a bit too much for me and surely could have been done without. And at times, the film falls into temporary lulls here and there. However, it is a grand and stately film. I remember enjoying Kevin Reynolds’ “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” (1991) very much. It has been a long while since I’ve seen it so I don’t think it fair at all to compare the two. In any case, they are two completely different stories. This one stands on its own just fine. A pleasurable, summer blockbuster movie experience to be sure. If you are one of the many who wanted to see it, but the reviews have kept you away, I would suggest that you go and see it while it’s still on the big screen.