Thursday, May 13, 2010
Review: "Robin Hood"
When I first heard they were making a new Robin Hood movie, I wondered whatever for. After 100 years of cinematic depictions, from Douglas Fairbanks to Errol Flynn to Kevin Costner, from heroic icon to revisionism to parody and back again, what more is there to add?
Later I saw trailers for this big-budget extravaganza starring Russell Crowe, and couldn't puzzle out its purpose. Based on the grimy world depicted in the preview, I guessed it was aiming for that whole vérité man-behind-the-legend thing.
Now I've actually seen the film, and I'm still having a hard time figuring out what the hell it's about.
Director Ridley Scott and screenwriter Brian Helgeland deliver a befuddled fusion of Robin Hood mythology, history lesson and their own, mostly kooky, contributions. It starts out as a weary condemnation of war, briefly flirts with being a rowdy boys' adventure of looting and wenching (this is actually the most enjoyable part) and then grows bloated with Braveheart-esque self-importance.
"There's no difference between a knight and any other man, other than what he wears," Robin intones.
Instead of just "Robin Hood," you could have called it "Before the Hood," since it tells the story of how Robin came to be an outlaw, rather than what happened after. No robbing of the rich, and certainly no giving to the poor here.
(I have to add that Robin's looking a bit long in the tooth to be starting a new career. If I were feeling puckish, I might point out that Crowe is the same age Sean Connery was when he played the pathetic over-the-hill Robin in 1976's "Robin and Marian.")
Many other Robin Hood legends are given the boot. Instead of being the son of the poor but noble Baron Walter Loxley (Max von Sydow), our hero is an anonymous archer in King Richard the Lionheart's army named Robin Longstride. He only impersonates Robert Loxley, Walter's son, in order to escape to England after deserting from Richard's crusade.
Marian (Cate Blanchett) is no maid but Robert's wife, perpetually dour at having been abandoned a week after her marriage, now widowed and faced with a common yeoman usurping her husband's status.
Prince John (Oscar Isaac) is here, a preening metrosexual wannabe monarch, wearing an aura of luscious black curls and a perpetual pout, conspiring against Richard and flaying the people for their taxes. The Sheriff of Nottingham also shows up, but as merely a bit player. (This is actually a return to roots; over the years the character kept getting inflated into the main heavy.)
The chief evildoer is Godfrey, played by Mark Strong, who apparently has become to big-budget villainy what Sam Worthington is to protagonists: Everybody's go-to guy. Godfrey is a childhood friend of John's who's secretly conspiring with King Philip of France to foment trouble and soften up England for the Gallic invasion.
William Marshall (William Hurt), Richard's loyal regent, oversees an army of spies and may be playing the sides off each other. John's mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine (Eileen Atkins), appears to be a major player, but then she abruptly disappears about halfway through the movie.
More frayed story threads abound. There's talk about the barons forcing John to sign a charter, which seems to be a reference to the Magna Carta (which the real King John did endorse in 1215). Walter entices Robin with knowledge about his long-lost father, but then a perplexing flashback throws his tale into higgledy-piggledy.
Oh, and Friar Tuck is raising bees to supply his underground booze trade, Walter asks Robin to impersonate Robert, and there's some unexplained feral boys running around the forest wearing masks and stealing food and generally acting as if they wandered out of the story of another guy in green tights.
When it comes to needless remakes of legendary heroes, Hollywood never wants to grow up.
2 stars out of four