TWO AND A HALF STARS – ** ½
The latest reincarnation of our favorite outlaw, Robin Hood, should have been called “Gladiator with a Braveheart Carrying a Bow and Arrow Lost in the Kingdom of England.”
The fifth collaboration between director Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe delivers mixed results as the duo attempt an unnecessary remake of a beloved classic but stubbornly decide to rob the story and the character of its mythic identity and sense of adventure.
I truly wanted to enjoy this picture which has sadly been beset with bad worth of mouth, a bloated budget and rumors of re-writes and serious infighting between the director and star.
However, the first 40 minutes, which are crisply paced, made me doubt the bad press, but eventually the movie buckles under the strains of a convoluted screenplay and multiple storylines that are never anchored in a confident, coherent tone or vision.
Scott’s Robin Hood is an honest-to-a-fault soldier serving ten years as an archer in King Richard the Lionheart’s faltering and expensive Crusade to reclaim the Holy Lands. Upon Richard’s insistence for an honest answer regarding the virtue of his bloody Crusade, Robin obliges by chastising the King for his senseless massacre of Muslims and doubting the nobility and overall purpose of the brutal campaign (Apparently, Scott learned a few things on his last historical Crusade epic, Kingdom of Heaven.) Naturally, Robin and his merry men – three fellow soldiers who are thoroughly wasted in the movie as drunken, unfunny comic foils – are imprisoned along with him for this impudence. I quietly applauded Scott for de-romanticizing the saintly image of Richard and inserting this politically – and factually – correct tidbit.
Robin and his men escape, King Richard is killed in battle, and a Knight by the name of Richard of Loxely is entrusted with the responsibility of returning Richard’s crown to England. Sadly, he is ambushed by the evil, bald plated Sir Godfrey, played by go-to bad guy du jour Mark Strong, who is secretly working with the French to plan an all out assault on England.
Robin and his men fortuitously stumble upon the ambush as they escape to England, and conveniently find the dying Loxely, who gives Robin his sword and makes him swear to return it to his father, a landowner in Nottingham.
For no reason aside from propelling the plot forward and giving Robin Hood some semblance of motivation, Robin inexplicably agrees and sets upon Nottingham where he meets Loxely’s widow, the lovely Lady Marion played ably by Cate Blanchett, and the blind, aging father, played by Max Von Sydow, who basically plays the same father-figure mentor role of Richard Harris’s Aurelius from Gladiator.
We also have significant subplot involving King John, the weasel-y and ruthless brother of Richard the Lionheart who inherits the throne and serves as an inferior avatar of Joaquin Phoenix’s Commodus character from, yet again, Gladiator. Throw in some political rivalry between France and England, growing dissent amongst the citizens protesting the King’s oppressive taxes, and a revisionist history of the Magna Carta and you have a rough idea of what Scott has cooked up in 140 minutes.
I would have been down for this epic reimagining had the ingredients been seasoned and prepared properly.
Robin Hood, the titular hero of this tale, unfortunately becomes lost in this unfocused landscape, which looks absolutely gorgeous thanks to $150 million dollars and master craftsman Scott’s notorious attention to visual detail.
For the most part, Crowe does the best he can with a poorly written character, who is expected to become Robin of the Hood by the end of this tale, but shows very little wit, humor and charity that personifies the legend (I’m curious when this will exactly happen considering Crowe’s Robin Hood is nearly 47 years old in this origin story. The sequel? I digress.) Towards the end of the movie, the screenwriters lazily use a “repressed memory” narrative device to enlighten Robin about his late father’s “fictional” role in inspiring the Magna Carta, thus finally giving him purpose to mount a horse, inspire the masses with a rousing speech and kill as many French invaders as possible in the film’s lengthy final fight sequence.
The always reliable Cate Blanchett does the best she can with a limiting role, credibly playing the elder, widowed Lady Marion as brave, action-ready feminist who most likely would have never existed in 12th century England. She even suits up in armor and ends up leading the charge against the French. Sadly, the few scenes of wit and courtship between Blanchett and Crowe tease us with glimpses of a better movie that should have honored the talent and chemistry of these two formidable actors.
Scott’s rendition looks beautiful and Crowe’s Robin Hood commands our attention with his simmering glare and intensity, but it seems his bow and arrow could have easily been replaced with a sword and sandal in a far better movie released 10 years ago named Gladiator.