Bowman begins – Robin Hood review

Robin Hood – Starring Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett and Mark Strong. Directed by Ridley Scott. Rated M. By Simon Miraudo.

Whenever I think of Robin Hood, one story comes to mind. No, it’s not Kevin Costner’s take on the legendary folk hero, nor is it Mel Brooks’ depiction of his merry men in tights. I’m reminded of a notorious wedding disaster that happened to a friend of a friend of a relative of mine (or something like that). The unlucky bride and groom went to the church a couple of weeks before their nuptials to meet with the octogenarian organ player. They made a small request: instead of having a traditional wedding march, could she instead play Bryan Adams’ love theme from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves as the bride walked down the aisle? “Easy enough,” the organ player insisted. And so came the wedding day. As the bridal party all made their way to the altar, there was nothing left but for the blushing bride to march down to her groom. As she waited for the soothing Canadian strains of Adams’ “Everything I Do (I Do It For You)”, the organ player instead kicked into high gear, singing “Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen. Robin Hood, Robin Hood, with his band of men…”

At no point in Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood does Russell Crowe burst into a rousing rendition of this classic theme (despite his penchant for public acts of musicianship). Scott’s adaptation isn’t about balladeering, or wisecracking antics, or even acts of bravery. It’s about separating the legend from the man; it’s about bringing Robin of the Hood out of the stratosphere of adulation and presenting him as a regular, human man. In fact, this Robin Hood only steals from the rich to give to the poor on one measly occasion, spending the rest of his time just being a friendly dude. Yes, Ridley Scott has successfully knocked Robin Hood out of his untouchable perch of folk heroism and made him seem like a real person. But at what price? Is it not the job of folk heroes to remain just that? To remain untouchable and have their valiant tales seem like the stuff of myth? Even after Scott’s take on the subject matter, it seems as if the ‘wedding march’ disaster will remain my favourite Robin Hood tale.

Russell Crowe gets his ‘Maximus’ on once again in Robin Hood, playing the eponymous hero as you would pretty much expect him to. Of course, he’s not yet a ‘hood’ when the film begins. He’s simply Robin Longstride, an archer in the crusading army of King Richard (Danny Huston). Consider this his origin story. After Richard is killed in the heat of battle, Robin and a couple of hangers-on decide to get the hell out of dodge. Longstride hitches a ride back to England – posing as the deceased Sir Robin of Loxley – to deliver the late king’s crown to the sniveling heir the throne John (a scene chewing Oscar Isaac). Once back in England, Robin and his merry men head to Nottingham, home of the real Robin of Loxley, to inform Loxley’s wife Marion (Cate Blanchett) and father Walter (Max Von Sydow) of his passing.

“Uhh, isn’t he supposed to steal from the rich and give to the poor at some point?” As you may have noticed, there is a lot of exposition that the film has to get through before it can establish Robin as a hero of the working class. I haven’t even mentioned the films many, many villains yet. You have the taxation-happy King John, whose outrageous demands almost tear his nation apart. Then there is King John’s hired goon Sir Godfrey (Mark Strong – playing his billionth villain in only 18 months), who is in cahoots with the French King Philip, himself eager to invade England. Oh, and the Sheriff of Nottingham. Remember him? Robin is barely aware of half of the villains in this film. He spends the majority of the film wooing the spunky Maid Marion, leaving little time for any good vs. evil battles (or even any defending-of-the-working-class; the very reason for his lasting idolatry).

Scott has a hard time juggling the various plot strands and seemingly infinite number of characters. Brian Helgeland’s script (based on Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris’ far different original draft) is impressive in its attention to period detail, but too often feels as if he is simply name checking as many notable people and places as possible in under two hours. By sacrificing the joyous, ballad-inspiring heroics of Robin Hood, we are left with a slavish biopic of a man who may not have even ever existed. Surely the point of folklore is to contribute to the ever-growing strand of tales, not to stifle the imagination and attempt a definitive, all-encompassing version.

Thankfully, Scott is able to fall back on his more than capable cast, which also includes William Hurt and Kevin Durand. And as far as gorgeous period pieces go, this might well be the new benchmark. The film is dazzling to behold; so authentic you can practically smell the mead (or alternatively, the horrendous odour of dental disease). Also, the film’s final action sequence is stirring enough to make up for the film’s languid second act. Ridley Scott’s more recent projects may not reach the heights of his early, iconic work, but the man knows how to make a solid film. Robin Hood is just that – solid, if unremarkable. Whether that’s enough for the tale of history’s most beloved scoundrel, I’ll leave up to you to decide.


Check out Simon’s other reviews.

6 Responses to “Bowman begins – Robin Hood review”

  1. Thanks for that review, if I didn't have free premiere tickets I probably wouldn't bother paying.Actually now I'm languishing the fact I have to go!

  2. Why is it that most of the reviews singularly fail to mention Cate's performance? Does she have next to no screen time? Or are is everyone just so eager to take Russ down a peg or two that all others has been forgotten in the melee? And since when should any version of an almost entirely mythical figure feel obliged to maintain strict historical veracity? I think I hear the sound of the whipper-snippers roaring in anticipation of some overly lanky poppies.

  3. @WearyNot sure if you're directly responding to my review or not, but for what it's worth:1) Cate is fine in the film, but none of the performances were remarkable enough for discussion.2) I DON'T think the film should have been so intent on maintaining historical veracity – in fact, Scott and Helgeland's attempt to make everything seem historically legit seriously limited the power of Robin Hood as a folk hero.

  4. As a movie, fail.As a documentary about the historically accurate representation of Robin Hood as a non-fictional man, made ultra-realistic to the point of becoming boring. This movie EXCELS.Add in some generic villians, a love interest and a bit of action at the end and the director almost had a movie there.If you enjoy Robin Hood as a folk hero, don't waste your money.If you enjoy Russell Crowe as an actor, go hire A Good Year again.50/100.

  5. SherylI thought that the movie was depicting the rise of the legend of Robin Hood. It is a story about the build up of what caused him to become the infamous outlaw. That is why you don't see all the robbing from the rich etc. The movie ends with Robin Hood being cast an outlaw, which is when the real legend that we all know begins. I thought the movie was basically 3/5 stars. Nothing fantastic but if you're a history buff you would probably get something out of this movie version.

  6. >Hey Simon,I am not sure if Ridley Scott knocked Robin Hood out of his folkloric perch, but rather grounded the audience with a more comprehensive depiction of the folktale as it was told to the original audience. But this doesn't mean that he attempted to "verify" or "prove" Robin's existence, only that the narrative doesn't begin and end with elaborate wooded tree-houses and clever rouses to trick and steal money from the crown (and certainly doesn't cast Kevin Costner as Robin Hood, which is almost as bad as casting Tom Cruise as the Last Samurai). Scott passed on the delusional blue pill of historical "veracity," taking instead the difficult red pill of historical "resonance;" the latter being a painstaking yet rewarding effort to capture a bygone contextual milieu amid the stories and myths they once told. In my opinion, Scott hit the ball out of the f'ing park here: the history backdrop helped craft an authenticity, rounding out a world-building ambiance so important to history films, thus giving the mythic tale of Robin Hood a political, practical edge.– Though, I do have an ax to grind with the plot structure. The final battle scene was a let down. There was nothing really memorable about it: the fight between Robin and Sir Godfrey was weak; Little John didn't get enough fight scenes (Kevin Durand was awesome — loved the big ass maul) — but worst of all, Scott didn't pull off Cate's joining the battle with the orphans. The whole time you were waiting to see how the orphans were going to play out, as they were a marginal plot line weaving in and out of the film. Scott didn't unfold this subplot very well in my opinion, they were too flat and tertiary. We needed to get to know one of their leaders, and why they decided to help out and fight.All in all, I thought this was one of the best unsung films of the year.

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