Monday, May 17, 2010

Movie Review: Robin Hood

Robin Hood ** ½
Directed by:
Ridley Scott.
Written By: Brian Helgeland and Ethan Reiff & Cyrus Voris.
Starring: Russell Crowe (Robin Longstride), Cate Blanchett (Marion Loxley), Max von Sydow (Sir Walter Loxley), William Hurt (William Marshal), Mark Strong (Godfrey), Oscar Isaac (Prince John), Danny Huston (King Richard The Lionheart), Eileen Atkins (Eleanor of Aquitaine), Mark Addy (Friar Tuck), Matthew Macfadyen (Sheriff of Nottingham), Kevin Durand (Little John), Scott Grimes (Will Scarlet), Alan Doyle (Allan A'Dayle), Douglas Hodge (Sir Robert Loxley), Léa Seydoux (Isabella of Angoulême), Robert Pugh (Baron Baldwin), Gerard McSorley (Baron Fitzrobert).

I was going to start out this review by saying that Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe needed to lighten up a bit – but then I remember when they tried to do just that and the result was A Good Year – perhaps the worst film either of them have ever been involved with. Besides, there is nothing inherently mistaken with trying to make Robin Hood more serious than his other cinematic outings – the approach worked for Christopher Nolan in the Batman movies. The real problem here is that Robin Hood is a dull, boring character – and since no real attempt is made to give any of the other characters much more than a one note personality – the film is just as dull and boring as he is. It is admittedly well made, with some great action sequences, but a movie needs more than that to be successful.

This version of Robin Hood starts much earlier than any other cinematic outing that I can recall – in fact it ends, right where most of those movies begin. Robin Longstride (Crowe) is coming back from the Crusades following his King Richard – The Lionheart (Danny Huston) when all hell breaks loose. Richard is killed in battle, and Crowe and his “Merry Men” – Little John (Kevin Durand), Will (Scott Grimes) and Allan (Alan Doyle) take off back to England, only to stumble upon the traitor Godfrey (Mark Strong) killing what he thinks is the King’s party, in an effort to make his childhood friend Prince John (Oscar Issac), the King of England – but only so it will make it easier for the French to take over. Robin and his men foil the plot and disguise themselves as Knights in order to bring the Crown back to England and get a reward, which they do. But Robin made a promise to the dying Knight who held the crown that he would return his sword to his father – Walter Loxley (Max von Sydow), in Nottingham, and he cannot break a promise. When he gets there, he discovers Nottingham stricken by poverty because of the taxes – taxes which John plans to raise – and Loxley convinces him to pretend to be his dead son – much to the chagrin of his widow, Marion (Cate Blanchett). And so the events of the film are set in motion.

Robin Hood has one of the best ensemble casts that you could imagine being assembled. Crowe is a usually capable lead, who excels at playing driven, moral men who do the right thing even when it is not easy. That describes this version of Robin Hood pretty well – he doesn’t like the responsibilities thrust upon him, but cannot turn away. Yet the screenplay doesn’t give Crowe much to work with – he is drawn in broad strokes, with little complexity and as a result, he’s rather boring to watch. Cate Blanchett plays one of those spunky heroines, and she does a decent job given what she has to work with. Yet, she shares absolutely no chemistry with Crowe – we perhaps start to believe that she no longer hates him, right at the time they are declaring their love for each other. Because their relationship doesn’t work, we are left with a gaping hole in the emotional connections in the film.

The supporting cast does what it can – but given their caliber, we keep expecting them to get a breakout scene that never seems to come. William Hurt, Danny Huston, Max von Sydow, Mark Strong, Matthew McFadyen and Eileen Atkins are all fine actors – but none of them are really given a chance to shine. They make a few nice speeches, but they never become fully functioning characters – just pawns for the plot to move around as it pleases. The best performance in the movie comes from Oscar Issac as the petulant, ungrateful new King who seems absolutely outraged that people will not just bow down and his do his bidding on his command. And I must admit that I enjoyed Robin’s “Merry Men” Durand, Grimes and Doyle, who are later joined by Mark Addy’s Friar Tuck. At the very least, they seem to be having a great time, and provide some much needed comic relief. No, they are really written, or performed, any better than anyone else, but at least they’re fun to watch.

Ridley Scott is an expert craftsman, as he has shown time and again over the course of his career. His movies for the most part all look great (strangely, I think that the Oscar winning Gladiator, with its horrid special effects, is an exception). He knows how to stage action sequences, and large scale battle sequences with the best of them, and the movie has some doozies littered throughout, and climaxes with the best of the lot. It is bloody and brutal, and yet forgoes the usual kinetic visual and editing style that make many modern action sequences nearly unwatchable. As he proved with Kingdom of Heaven, among others, he knows how to do these battles with the best of them and he certainly succeeds in that here.

Having said that, Scott is a director whose films either rise or fall based on the material he is provided, and what the actors can bring to their roles. He isn’t among the best directors of his generation simply because he never seems to put his own stamp on the movies, his own feeling. Any depth in his films is provided by the screenplay and the actors, and Scott excels when he has great material to work with, which he brings out wonderfully well. But in a movie like Robin Hood, all that is missing because the characters are not well defined, and we end up not really caring what happens to any of them. Had Scott and company decided to follow the lead of the 1938 Errol Flynn masterpiece The Adventures of Robin Hood (still the best Robin Hood film ever made by far), and kept the movie light and fun, he may have been able to plaster over the lack of depth in the film. But they decided to make this a serious movie – a Robin Hood movie that wants to be more like Braveheart than anything else – and because they did, Robin Hood ultimately fails.

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