By Roger Moore
May 12, 2010
Here, at last, is Ridley Scott’s Russell Hood: Prince of Prequels, a dark and brawny version of the Robin Hood legend that anchors itself in English history and loses some of the merriment in the process.
Scott, his screenwriter (Brian Helgeland of Green Zone) and Russell Crowe take us back before men in tights, to the leather, blood, bows and arrows of Crusader’s England for a film that presents Robin Hood as a working class archer who becomes a freedom fighting nobleman. And for the most part, it’s a very entertaining history from The Third Crusade to the fight for the Magna Carta, which guaranteed civil liberties by limiting the power of the king.
Robin Longstride is a weary warrior riding with reckless Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston) home from that crusade. When Richard is killed at a siege in France, the plainspoken Robin and a few “merry” men, make their way back to England on their own, but not before interrupting the attempted theft of the English crown by the Norman double-agent Godfrey (Mark Strong).
Robin impersonates the fallen knight entrusted with escorting the crown, Robert Loxley, and promises to return the man’s sword to his father in Nottingham. When he does, he meets not only the blind old nobleman (Max Von Sydow), but the “real” Robert Loxley’s wife, the feisty Marion (Cate Blanchett). They “meet cute” in the best Hollywood Robin Hood tradition.
“Girl!” he calls to her as she fills a horse trough.
“Girrrrrllll?” she mocks back, a grown woman every bit the match for this “yeoman.”
Robin impersonates Robert, sees the injustice of the church and King John’s taxes and starts to stir up trouble. The sacking, taxing and pillaging Godfrey stirs things up on the other side.
Helgeland’s script is a grab-bag of history and earlier films, from The Lion in Winter (Richard and John’s smart and scheming mom, Eleanor of Aquitaine, is here) to The Return of Martin Guerre (a returning soldier impersonates a dead man).
The touchstones of the Robin Hood legend are here – Little John (Kevin Durand) Will Scarlet (Scott Grimes), Alan A’Dayle ((Alan Doyle), and, as Friar Tuck, the perfectly-cast Mark Addy.
“I’m not a churchy friar,” he pleads as he shows off the bees that make the honey for his mead.
The Sheriff of Nottingham (Matthew Macfadyen) is a cruel fop. Godfrey, played by that villain’s villain, Strong, is the real heavy.
Scott, who dabbled in Medieval history with Kingdom of Heaven, has given us Robin Hood as war film. And Crowe plays him as a gladiator, probably because Russell doesn’t do “jaunty.”
So for all the glorious detail, the sprinkles of wit and the thrilling action, what we have here is two hours of war and intrigue and historical and character clutter (William Hurt is here, why?) leading up to Robin’s taking to the woods with a gang of “Lost Boys” and becoming “Robin of the Hood.” It’s fun and rousing entertainment, up to a point.
But brush up on your Third Crusade, Magna Carta and The First Baron’s War if you want to follow this Robin all the way from Chalus-Chabrol to Sherwood.
Cast: Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, William Hurt, Max von Sydow, Mark Strong, Matthew Macfadyen
Director: Ridley Scott
Running time: 2 hours, 11 minutes
Industry rating: PG-13 for violence including intense sequences of warfare, and some sexual content
Robin Hood's early history gets a boost from CG, Crowe and Blanchett
By Michael Phillips
Chicago Tribune Movie critic
4:20 p.m. CDT, May 12, 2010
You can dress it up or throw mud in its eye, but the enduring appeal of the Robin Hood legend is simple: treachery bested by archery. The other night, Turner Classic Movies aired the evergreen 1938 classic "The Adventures of Robin Hood" ( Errol Flynn in staggering three-strip Technicolor, directed by Michael Curtiz and William Keighley) and followed up with the first screen version of the Sherwood Forest legend I ever saw, as well as the sourest Robin Hood film yet made. I speak of "Robin and Marian" (1976), starring Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn, depicted in James Goldman's screenplay as uneasily reunited middle-age lovers striving for a graceful retreat from a ceaselessly cruel world.
What strikes me about the new "Robin Hood," directed by Ridley Scott, is how its preoccupations and sensibilities lie almost precisely halfway between the derring-do of the 1938 film and the harsh revisionism of the '70s edition.
The latest big-screen version of the outlaw myth marks the fifth collaboration between Scott and producer-star Russell Crowe. They made "Gladiator" a decade ago. If stylistic overlaps exist between that film and this one, well, no mystery: Crowe's fellow producer Brian Grazer is quoted by the film's production notes as saying, "If we were going to make this film, it had to be the 'Gladiator' version of 'Robin Hood.'"
I wonder if 15-year-olds who just came out of "Iron Man 2" will have much interest in the movie's paradoxically dour swagger, its recasting of Robin Hood as the linchpin to key Middle Ages historical events. Whatever. I liked it. It's on a par with Scott's "American Gangster": No revelations, but a satisfying, large-scale genre movie, toned up by its cast.
It's an origin myth, a prequel to the Robin of legend, commonly associated with merry men and robbing from the rich and such. The action begins after the Third Crusade led by Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston) has run its crimson course. Robin, named Robin Longstride, excels as an archer in King Richard's army, which hacks its way in retreat across France in the opening melee. For some, the big opening will work because it accomplishes what Scott and screenwriter Brian Helgeland intended: to give the movie a big opening. For others, it'll be pure chaos.
"Calm and careful," Crowe tells a fellow archer at one point. "Make it count." The advice seems at odds with the direction. At times you long for the man who made "The Duellists" and "Alien" a generation ago, when a director chose to establish a shot and actually hold it for a few seconds.
After the blur of the first half-hour, "Robin Hood's" rangy story begins to take shape. Assuming a dead nobleman's identity, Robin carries the crown of the late king to Eleanor of Aquitaine ( Eileen Atkins). Fulfilling his fallen comrade's last request, he then delivers the late nobleman's sword to his widow and father, played by Cate Blanchett and Max Von Sydow. Marion is nobody's maid or miss: She's tough as nails and quick with a zinger, and only reluctantly does Blanchett's Marion agree to a financially expedient plan in which Robin will pretend, "Martin Guerre"-style, to be her long-gone husband.
Crowe's performance, technically immaculate, is taciturn to the point of being a bit flat, yet there's really nobody else you'd want in the role. Like Crowe, Blanchett's acting has a natural period sense, though the love story gets some serious narrative competition in Helgeland's other concerns. He juggles scarcely fewer storylines and intrigues than he did in "L.A. Confidential."
Though Robin's band of outlaw brothers provides boisterous comic relief, there's not much merriment in the picture. When director Scott storms a castle, he wants you to feel the danger and the thwwwunnnch of the arrow entering flesh. The panoramic computer-generated landscapes are miles ahead of anything in "Gladiator." Robin's arrival in London on the late king's ship, for example, shows how CG can be used for cinematic-historical good as opposed to digital evil. The climactic battle with France's King Philip has Robin essentially waging war against all England's enemies, from within and without. As history, it's silly. As entertainment, it works.
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for violence, including intense sequences of warfare, and some sexual content)
Cast: Russell Crowe (Robin Longstride); Marion Loxley (Cate Blanchett); Max Von Sydow (Sir Walter Loxley); William Hurt (William Marshal); Mark Strong (Godfrey); Oscar Isaac ( Prince John); Danny Huston (King Richard); Eileen Atkins (Eleanor of Aquitaine)
Credits: Directed by Ridley Scott; written by Brian Helgeland; produced by Brian Grazer, Scott and Russell Crowe. A Universal Pictures release. Running time: 2:19
Film Review: Robin Hood
by: Peter Travers
Just when you think there isn't enough left to say about Robin Hood to fill a tweet – there have been more than 30 Hollywood versions of his story – along comes Russell Crowe and his Gladiator director, Ridley Scott, with a heap of backstory. Are we not entertained? Any resemblance to the Oscar-winning Gladiator is purely not coincidental.
Robin Hood sprawls its rousing action over nearly two and a half hours, playing up the battles, the flaming arrows, the clashing swords, the battering rams and the burning pitch to the maximus. But Robin (Crowe), Marion (Cate Blanchett) and the Merry Men don't even shack up in Sherwood Forest till the last scene. Scott and Crowe, who also worked together on American Gangster, Body of Lies and A Good Year (not good), are hellbent on setting their origin story in the context of history. A tough job, considering that this 13th-century English outlaw is less fact than fantasy. Serious business means out with the tights, the feathers and the 1991 stoner-dude take from a very American Kevin Costner. What this Robin Hood lacks in fun it makes up for in epic sweep.
Scott throws us right into the muck as we meet Crowe's Robin Longstride, a soldier in the army of Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston). This king has bankrupted England in the Crusades and left his country vulnerable to attack from France, where he is killed on his way home. His successor, Prince John (Oscar Isaac), is a tyrant under the influence of Sir Godfrey (Mark Strong), a French ally who encourages John to alienate his barons, notably William Marshall (William Hurt), by taxing them harshly and leaving the king's subjects in abject poverty.
Robin's return to the homeland he hasn't seen since childhood brings back memories of his father, who was assassinated for writing a charter (a harbinger of the Magna Carta) that protected the rights of the common man. His father's friend, the nearly blind Sir Walter Loxley (a splendid, lively Max von Sydow), takes Robin in and concocts a plan: Robin will pretend he is Sir Walter's son, killed in battle, to protect the property rights of the son's widow, Marion. Romance blooms, hesitantly, then hotly. Blanchett is a fireball, going head-to-head with Crowe as lover and warrior.
Are you with me? Robin Hood, written by Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential, Mystic River) with an eye on the present as well as the past, is overstuffed with characters, including the Sheriff of Nottingham (Matthew Macfadyen), Friar Tuck (Mark Addy) and assorted Merry Men. But the soul of the film is in the fight against taxation without representation. Tea Party protesters will eat this up, making Robin Hood the de facto movie of the year for Sarah Palin. Luckily, Scott and Crowe are too canny to allow their film to be co-opted by a political sideshow. What sticks is the image of Robin Hood as a common man driven not by superpowers but by the force of an idea.
Robin Hood: A Fantastically Inept Film
Yes, this movie is about as exciting as a UPS run.
by John Boot
May 14, 2010
The good news for Russell Crowe and Robin Hood is that it does remind you of one of the great movies about the Middle Ages. The bad news is that that movie is Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
This fantastically inept and bizarrely shapeless blob of a movie becomes laughable almost immediately, when Cate Blanchett’s Lady Marion steps up and fires an arrow hundreds of yards with blistering accuracy despite being approximately the weight of a longbow herself.
Russell Crowe’s Robin Longstride is a hazily defined figure who first finds himself fighting for a king he can’t stand, the crusader Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston, whose Pippi Longstocking/Robert Plant hairdo makes it hard to imagine anyone would be happy to go to war on his behalf), then (in what is played as a heroic moment) robs a dead knight named Robert of Locksley of his equipment and valuables, deciding to pass himself off as the dead man for as long as he can get away with it. Fully an hour of the movie goes by in which the major challenge is whether or not Robin can make good on his promise to the dying Locksley — to deliver his sword to his family up in Nottingham. Yes, this movie is about as exciting as a UPS run.
Meanwhile, Prince John (a whiny Oscar Isaac) takes advantage of Richard’s death to seize the crown — but he is even more of a jerk than his dead brother. He bickers endlessly with his mother and his chancellor (William Hurt) about taxation, finally deciding to send the evil knight Godfrey (the perpetually scowling Mark Strong, who was also the bad guy in Kick-Ass and Sherlock Holmes) to shake down the country’s landowners with orders to pay up or pay with their lives. Godfrey is secretly working for the French king, but why should we care? It’s not as though we’re given any reason to hope things work out for the mincing, duplicitous John, who is so foolish he actually seem surprised that this marauding psychopath is a double agent. “My friend Godfrey is not the friend I thought he was,” he muses. No kidding.
Nothing else in the movie sparks any reaction other than disbelief. Not the dumb dialogue that veers wildly back and forth between prithee-milady type ye olde speeches, awkward japery, and gratingly contemporary chatter. “Leave no stone unscorched!” goes one typical would-be rousing line. Yep, burn some rocks. That’ll teach em. When Robin first meets Marion, she says, “Plain Robin Longstride? No ‘Sir’?” “No ‘Sir,’ no Ma’am,” he responds. Forsooth, ’tis not funny. When John fires his chancellor, he tells the court the man is leaving “to spend more time with his family.”
Equally ridiculous are the action scenes (it’s 1199 and no one seems to find it worth commenting upon that the finest soldier anyone has ever met is a woman aristocrat — I laughed during the climactic battle when a knight’s visor is raised and Blanchett is shown to be underneath. Could Cate Blanchett even wear a suit of armor without falling over, much less wield a longsword better than men who outweigh her by a hundred pounds?).
When Robin and his men attack a French castle by creating the kind of giant fireball you’d normally associate with a mid-80s Stallone flick, I was reminded of the equally unlikely tactics in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, in which men hurl cows at each other. Later in the movie, there is a direct quote from the John Cleese Black Knight scene in Holy Grail, when a highwayman stands in the path of a group of travelers and barks, “None shall pass!”
The utter lack of chemistry between Crowe and Blanchett — two classic hambones — is papered over by a script that demands Lady Marion immediately take a dislike to Robin (for no reason). When her father-in-law (Max von Sydow, playing a blind geezer who does the obligatory business in which he runs his hands all over the face of Robin to find out what he “looks like”– do blind people actually do this anywhere but in movies?) makes Marion and Robin share a room together, she threatens to cut off his manhood with a dagger if he comes near her. Then she goes behind a translucent curtain to put on a little show of taking off her nightie — the saucy-silhouette cliche. But the feuding couple go for a horseback ride together and — poof! — suddenly they’re in love. Even in 21st century England, you’d be hard-pressed to find an aristocratic lady falling for a mason’s son and common foot soldier.
Nearly 100 minutes of the film pass before there is an apparent point to Robin’s drifting life: He finds out his late father was a pioneer for democracy and vows to fight for a charter that will give individuals full rights. This is kind of inconvenient in that it means Robin is now fighting on behalf of the swinish John (against the French), but the movie think it’s being clever by tying Robin Hood to the Magna Carta that was signed in 1215. This is about as wobbly a concept in the political and historical senses as Cate-the-warrior is physically.
The Magna Carta was created by barons for barons, not for the underclass. They would have just laughed if a working-class slob like Robin Hood had suggested that he should be their political and military leader. “You build a country like you build a cathedral — from the ground up,” Robin tells the nobles. Er, thanks, Karl Marx, but no one in 1199 England is asking for a peasant-ocracy.
John Boot is the pen name of a conservative writer operating under deep cover in the liberal media.