A blatant attempt to appeal to the widest audience possible and trade heavily on the past successful pairing of Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe, ROBIN HOOD is a handsome miss. Sure to be quickly forgotten in what is the new start to the summer movie season, the spring month of May, this outing of the now tight-less archer will do little to endear Robin Hood with a new generation.
Borrowing from English history and from the centuries’ old folklore, screenwriter Brian Helgeland (Oscar winner for adapting MYSTIC RIVER) gives us a new sort of Robin. In this telling of the ancient tale, Robin is a heroic yeoman who has spent a decade under the command of King Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston) on his many crusades. After having a face-to-face dispute with the King, Robin and a few of his “merry men” venture home under the guise of fallen knights (it’s a bit of subterfuge that ensures them safe passage). Once back in England, Robin isn’t comfortable masquerading as a knight and decides to do the right thing and return a family sword to the fallen knight’s father. His merry men, including the towering Little John (Kevin Durand), accompany him.
ROBIN HOOD starts with great promise. The battle sequence early is vintage Ridley Scott giving us exactly the kind of thing we expect from the pairing that brought us the multiple Academy Award winning GLADIATOR. But the push to make the story and the Robin Hood folklore into something of an epic seems a little out of place. While the folklore here has mutated over the years, the modern Robin Hood is becoming more and more of a national hero and here one that takes to the battlefield as a leader to thwart an invasion by the French. Staring down Kings and wooing women with Royal blood is becoming the norm for the man of the Hood, and here the mix of fact and fiction makes the entire production ring a little hollow.
But if you give into the narrative’s overreaching, ROBIN HOOD could be a lot of fun. As one would expect from a Ridley Scott film, it looks terrific. There’s plenty of action and a bit of humor mainly from Robin’s merry men with 6 foot 6 Canadian comedian Kevin Durand and English funny man Mark Addy (here as a bee-keeping Friar Tuck) having many of the best lines.
The romance between Robin and Marion (Cate Blanchett), however, does not work. While played well by two monstrously talented actors, they story requires a soft-spoken hero (the ever-understated acting of Crowe) and a tough, dare I say tomboy heroine. The screenplay covers familiar ground with this romance a little too familiarly. The absence of a sex scene being notable but hardly making us believe that Marion and Robin would really ever hook up in anything but the forced world of Hollywood movie match-making.
Shining like a new but old penny is Max von Sydow, here playing Sir Walter Loxley, the father of the fallen knight whose identity Robin assumes. Sydow, now in his 80s, is the kind of iconic actor whose presence alone can hold your attention. But here his character is the best written in the film—a self-aware man who understands what must be done to leave his legacy intact. And Sydow is well up to the challenge. ROBIN HOOD could have used more of him.
Also, giving us something to hold onto is William Hurt as the King’s former Chancellor who discovers the French plot against England. The always solid Hurt, who I interviewed a few years ago, makes his role work and made me wonder why we needed Robin Hood at all. Of course, this film when originally conceived did not start as a Robin Hood movie, rather, was to focus on the Sheriff of Nottingham. Perhaps the decision, from a marketing perspective, to change the story to a Robin Hood one is the reason why the supporting characters are far more interesting that the hero himself. Unfortunately, this is one of the main reasons why the movie is a failure. Very little in ROBIN HOOD has credibility, and the final closing act, a massive battle where absolutely everyone fights, left me chuckling where I should have been riveted.
Yet another telling of the famous folklore, ROBIN HOOD might be one of the weakest takes on the character to date.