FILM REVIEW: Robin Hood (2010)

Robin Hood (USA, 2010)
Directed by Ridley Scott
Starring Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Mark Strong, Max von Sydow

There's only so many times you can put 'from the director of Gladiator' on a poster before the brand begins to get tarnished. Having previously left us underwhelmed with Kingdom of Heaven, Ridley Scott returns to the world of epic warfare with a revisionist prequel-of-sorts in Robin Hood. But though much of his talent and creativity remains on screen, this is a disappointing film, which fails to marry action and drama half as well as in Scott's previous ventures.Having been such a trailblazer in his early years, Scott is increasingly a 'bandwagon director', following film trends rather than making them. And there is much about his version of Robin Hood which we have seen done before and better. The film is a sister project of Kingdom of Heaven because of its setting around the Crusades and its prominent attempt to combine high politics with intimate drama. For all the problems with Kingdom of Heaven, it does hang together as a political thesis which (in its director's cut at least) makes an alternative view of history very accessible.

There is much less of this coherency in Robin Hood, something which could be attributed to the film's troubled production. The film was originally titled Nottingham, with the story focussing on a love triangle between Robin, Marian and the eponymous Sheriff. But over a two-year period the script was re-written, shifting the narrative onto one of Robin starting as the Sheriff before becoming an outlaw. It was not until 2008 that Scott opted for a more conventional viewpoint and brought in Brian Helgeland to do further re-writes. The result is like a mediaevalist Batman Begins, but without the singular focus on narrative and characters which made Christopher Nolan's film so superb.
The opening 45 minutes are all over the place, being chaotically shot and feeling hurried. In Gladiator, the opening battle scene was a fantastic way to throw audiences straight into the story; by getting thrust into very dangerous circumstances, you had no choice but to choose your side and pray that your characters would survive. As a piece of choreography, the opening of Robin Hood is still impressive; there are very few directors who can structure on-screen battles so well. But the shooting style is much more incoherent, with many 'shaky-camera' close-ups which make the experience less involving.

Aside from its sub-Bourne camerawork, there are other aspects of Robin Hood's visual style which seem derivative. The cinematography is by and large good: John Mathieson, who also shot Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven, bathes the landscape in earthy greens and browns and brings out the faded, greying look of the swords and chainmail. But many of Scott's compositions feel like direct copies of other films, something which you don't expect from such a talented director. The death of Robert Locksley in the woods closely resembles the death of Boromir in The Fellowship of the Ring, and the huge volley of arrows in the final battle is a direct lift from Zhang Zimou's Hero.On top of the visual difficulties, the central performances are not completely watertight. Crowe has already demonstrated in A Good Year that his English accent isn't great, but here it wanders from Ireland to Yorkshire via the Scottish borders, changing almost take by take. There are occasions when he gets it right, with the kind of neutral, growling bass which served him well in both Gladiator and Master and Commander. But most of the time its inconsistency distracts us and prevents us from bonding with his character.

Cate Blanchett is a little better, but even she can't quite decide how she should sound. Most of the time her Maid Marian is very regal, being all clipped consonants and long vowels, as in Elizabeth. But when we first meet her, she slips into an earthy brogue, which sits easier than Crowe's but not by much. Ridley does however make better voice choices with the supporting cast, with Mark Addy turning in a good performance as Friar Tuck and Scott Grimes' Welsh accent bringing a new side to Will Scarlett. There is also a fleeting but memorable performance by Simon McBurney, best known as the ex-pat tailor in The Last King of Scotland.Having started without much promise, the film really picks up in the middle third as it starts to tackle the complex political issues of the day. The story becomes less about Robin as a potential icon and more about the conflicts going on both within England and without it. Within England, we have a discontented lower class who feel no loyalty to the newly crowned king and are not prepared to be bled dry by taxation. Without, we have King John's desire for a divorce so he may lay claim to the Spanish throne, and a plot by Mark Strong's Godfrey to set the barons against the King so that the French army may invade.

This is where the idea of revisionist history works best. It completely dispels the myth of mediaeval England as one of ignorant serfs at the mercy of an all-powerful king. John is sinister and darkly charismatic, but he is also weak; there is a through-line between him and Commodus, since both are motivated to some extent by a desperate craving for affection. But John's is not the only reputation called into question; King Richard is challenged when he asks his soldiers whether their crusades will bring them reward in heaven. Billy Bragg was employed as an historical advisor on the film, which makes prominent reference to both the Magna Carta and the Forest Charter. It becomes a film about a people struggling for some kind of personal liberty and constitutional rights (although such terms are of course anachronistic).This is also the section of the film in which the light-hearted elements come together and work well. Alongside the serious scenes of plot and intrigue, we have the bawdy humour of the Nottingham peasants and the comic interplay between Robin and Marian. The story of these two pretending to be husband and wife and then actually falling in love seems like a natural continuation; their relationship reads like a happier version of The Return of Martin Guerre. Plus there are very few people who won't raise a smile during the ambush scene in the woods.

Towards the end, however, Robin Hood slips back into rather nonsensical action. In the final battle on the beach, we get one ridiculous image after another, and the use of slow-mo is a bad reminder of Braveheart. After Marian arrives at the battle in disguise, we get more blatant Lord of the Rings rip-offs as the camera follows the arrow that will kill Godfrey. Even if we accept that the English would somehow know on which beach the French would invade, it's fairly certain they wouldn't have to contend with the landing craft from Saving Private Ryan.Robin Hood is an interesting but heavily flawed attempt to retell a popular legend. It is not without substance, or moments of cohesion, but it can never really make up its mind as to how substantial or cohesive it wants to be. Its prominent desire to tackle complex issues makes it too serious-minded to be a fun romp, and the loose feeling of both the beginning and end make it hard to take everything seriously. It is one of the better adaptations of Robin Hood, being funnier than Men in Tights and a lot less po-faced than Prince of Thieves. But for a film of this scale, with people of this calibre, that's not a spectacular achievement.

Rating: 2.5/5
Verdict: Occassional brilliance amidst frequent disappointment


Unknown said...

Watch robin hood 2010 full movie free on zmovies now. For a "prequel to the Robin Hood legend," casting surly, bitter-looking actors in their 40s as Robin and Marian was the first mistake. The bigger problem, though, was the completely joyless, humorless approach to the Robin Hood story. This movie is just straight revenge porn: Richard dead right off the bat to remove any promise of better times to come, evil Frenchmen locking villagers into barns to burn them alive, gratuitous killings of sympathetic characters for no better reason than to set up a revenge scenario, etc. And don't get me started on the wooden WW2-style landing craft in the "reverse D-day" finale. The whole thing feels like a remake of Gladiator in medieval England, with characters randomly assigned names from the Robin Hood legend. The feel-bad movie of the summer. Click los movies watch movies free now.

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The only positive thing I can say about this film is the excellent production and filming. What a melange of near incomprehensible accents! Russell Crowe - Australian, Cate Blanchett - Australian, Max von Sydow - Scandinavian. Much of the dialogue is barely intelligible. The lines spoken in French had subtitles (the only lines I could understand with my high school French!). This is unlike any Robin Hood you may have seen before. Of course there was only ONE Robin Hood - Errol Flynn. All others are only feeble imitations. The battle scenes were impressive. But Robin fighting with a long handled hammer??? Admittedly it was effective against the helmeted French, but, as I said, unlike any other Robin Hood. And the landing craft for the French Fleet? Did they buy discarded WWII LST's used to land our Allied Forces on Normandy Beach? Overly long, overly talky, they could have talked the French to death. Definitely a disappointment and, in my book (and my wife's) not worth seeing. At least Mel Brooks' version "Men in Tights" gave us a few laughs.

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