Forget about his origin and stick with his adventures.
A lot can happen in three years. When it was announced that Ridley Scott was going to direct a Robin Hood movie, the plot was to have been a revisionist take on the Robin Hood legend, with the Sheriff of Nottingham as a brave and noble lawman, not the vile and corrupt sheriff we remember. However the spec script – one that Universal Pictures acquired in a huge bidding contest – was basically thrown out and rewritten from scratch by Brian Helgeland (Green Zone, L.A. Confidential). Apparently, Ridley Scott wanted the Sheriff to be a more conflicted character.
Well, if Scott got what he wanted then it definitely didn’t show in the final product. The lawman is but a throwaway character in Robin Hood (formerly titled Nottingham). Crowe doesn’t play Nottingham, which was one of the original ideas, but he does play the famed archer, Robin Hood.
Aside from a few shots of him wearing green stockings, Crowe doesn’t personify the folk hero. That’s because Robin Hood is a prequel of sorts, before he began his legendary adventures. So this Robin doesn’t have the full regalia of green leotards and a brown felt hat, or have a swashbuckling presence. This Robin is a warrior. The problem with this approach is that it feels too much like Gladiator-light. Even more disheartening is that the trailers try to provoke a fondness of that Oscar winning film, but the PG-13 rating prevents the subject from being treated seriously. In battle sequences the soldiers brandish swords, yet hardly a drop of blood is spilled. And with a 140-minute running time the picture seems clunky, as if significant edits were made in post-production, leaving scenes to languish on the cutting room floor.
The movie begins with Robin Hood as Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe), one of the most accurate archers in the army of King Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston). When the king dies, Robin and friends (don’t call them merry men just yet) return the crown back to London so that it may be given to the next heir of the throne, Prince John (Oscar Isaac). From the start, John proves that he’s not as strong a leader as his older brother. He wants his kingdom to be prosperous, and by prosperous I mean taxing the population of England into oblivion. It is up to Godfrey (Mark Strong), John’s chief tax collector, to make it happen. But Godfrey has an ulterior motive at play, as he is a spy for France. Him and Robin have an early confrontation but meet again when Godfrey lays siege to the township of Nottingham, where Robin establishes an identity as the son of Sir Walter Loxley (Max von Sydow) and as the husband of Marion Loxley (Cate Blanchett).
Recognizable characters aplenty thus far, but more make their presence known. Mark Addy plays Friar Tuck, the resident beekeeper and holy man, who prefers to drink his riches with those around him. Robin’s cohorts Little John (Kevin Durand) and Will Scarlet (Scott Grimes) are here as well. Both aren’t integral to the main plot, except for some action here and there, but it’s nice to know they’re in the film. And Pride & Prejudice‘s Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen) appears as the Sheriff of Nottingham. He’s presence is so small that he proves inconsequential as a villain or a character of merit.
So the question remains if this is Russell Crowe’s Robin Hood or Ridley Scott’s. Heated arguments on the set (rumored) between the actor and director may hold the key at who got their way at the end. After five pairings Ridley Scott should pull a Scorsese and collaborate with a new actor. It’s just not working anymore. The candle that burned bright with Gladiator has burned out. The version we have is a Robin that scowls and broods. (Perhaps Robin Longstride is a descendant of Maximus.) Cate Blanchett manages a good performance as Maid Marion, which isn’t surprising considering Scott’s pedigree when it comes to working with actresses. Mark Strong owns his one-note role as Godfrey, making him the current actor go-to guy when a villain is needed. He’s played one three times already in the span of a year (Sherlock Holmes, The Young Victoria, and Kick-Ass), and he’ll be the main bad guy in comic-book adaptation of Green Lantern in 2011.
Still, Brian Helgeland’s script is a halfhearted attempt to tell the story of Robin Hood before the legend is spread from person to person. This is the same guy that gave us A Knight’s Tale, an action-adventure comedy that Robin Hood should have been. But when you’re trying to tell an origin story with an actor in his mid-forties it’s hard to elicit excitement. The film is entertaining in certain sequences, John Mathieson’s photography is quite beautiful, but it is still a war film without a clear vision. All it would have taken was a little merriment.
Director: Ridley Scott Notable Cast: Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Mark Strong, William Hurt, Max von Sydow Writer(s): Brian Helgeland
Travis Leamons is one of the Inside Pulse Originals and currently holds the position of Managing Editor at Inside Pulse Movies. He's told that the position is his until he's dead or if "The Boss" can find somebody better. I expect the best and I give the best. Here's the beer. Here's the entertainment. Now have fun. That's an order!