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WE ARE THE MEN OF THE HOOD!
Robin Hood  (DVD)
Member Name: Mauri
Robin Hood  (DVD)
Advantages: Good Cast, Battles and overall look
Disadvantages: Creaky plot
The legend of Robin Hood who 'steals from the rich to give to the poor' has been rich picking for filmmakers since he very beginning of cinema. From the classic 1920's silent version starring Douglas Fairbanks, the Oscar winning first colour version with Errol Flynn (that some still consider the definitive version) to more recent offerings such as 'Robin Hood Prince of Thieves' starring the improbably cast Kevin Costner, the legend has fascinated and entertained countless film audiences.
The elements of the story are well known to us and have been essentially the same in over thirty different versions. Most have Robin a loyal knight of King Richard fight against the oppression of the king's younger brother John and help the ordinary people survive tyranny with the help of his band of outlaws hiding deep in Sherwood Forest. Very few of these films have stuck to the original legend, not that the original story of Robin Hood is all that clear and the version we all know today is mostly based on Hollywood's interpretation of it. Some films have tried to focus of different aspects of the story a good example would be 1976 version 'Robin and Marian' starring Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn, which showed us an ageing Robin years after the events in the original story. By contrast this film Ridley Scott's spin on the Robin Hood tale is a sort of a prequel to the familiar story.
We meet Robin as a common bowman in King Richard the Lionheart's army coming back from the crusades, battling and looting their way back through France. In this version Robin is not a nobleman he is simply Robin Longstride and not Robin Locksley the knight as in other films. When the king dies in battle Robin and some of his fellow soldiers Will Scarlett, Alan-a-Dale and Little John, return to England. On the way back they come upon a dying knight Robert of Locksley, whose party was ambushed by the traitorous Godfrey who in league with the French king plans on a French invasion of England. Robin promises Robert that he will take his sword back to Nottingham where his father Sir Walter Locksley lives. On meeting Robin, Walter persuades him to impersonate his dead son to prevent his land being confiscated by the new King John. He also has to pretend to be the husband of lady Marian Locksley's widow. Soon enough Robin and his friends become involved in the political machinations of the realm with on one side the warring Barons who are fed up with John's oppression and on the other the threat of invasion from France.
Ridley Scott is a master director of the epic story famously previously collaborating with Russell Crowe on 'Gladiator' and taking on the story of the crusades in 'Kingdom of Heaven'. So the least we can expect from this director is some well choreographed and exciting battle scenes and to this extent we are not disappointed. There are some great moments in the film when the English army is besieging a castle and other battles in the forest and on the beaches. The props and special effects budget has been well spent and the weapons, armour, costumes and dirt all have a naturalistic look. Medieval England is not presented in the classical Hollywood way with rolling green hills, fairy tale castles, noble peasants and chivalrous knight flying colourful banners. Life in this film is bleak for the ordinary people as they are bled dry by the crown's unfair taxes. The landscape is dark and mud splattered, even nobility live in little more than comfortable hovels. I would say that the first hour of the film is excellent in showing us a realistic vision of life at the time with the brutality of war ever-present and the reality of poverty and subjugation for most people. The characters are believable and there is a good chemistry between Robin and Marion. Unfortunately the film cannot sustain this promising beginning.
Russell Crowe is good enough as the gruff Robin and is certainly more believable than Costner ever was. While Costner didn't attempt an accent Crowe does but I'm not sure which part of the country he's aiming for. It does end to change as the film goes on starting with a slight Northern lilt and ending up more Irish meets West Country by the end. Cate Blanchet is good value as the bolshie Marion who matches up to Robin in every way as his lover and fellow warrior. In fact the cast generally is very classy. The great veteran actor Max von Sydow is at his usual compelling best as the elderly knight trying to protect his estate and his people from the excesses of the greedy King John. The ubiquitous Mark Strong makes a great villain as Sir Godfrey ordering defenceless men to be cut down without mercy and their women and children to be burnt alive. Another Hollywood heavyweight (certainly from a few years ago) William Hurt plays the pragmatic William Marshall the brains behind the crown very convincingly. Surprisingly his English accent is certainly better than Crowe's. Leading British character actress Eileen Atkins (is she a Dame yet?) conveys just the right amount of imperiousness as Eleanor of Aquitaine one of the most influential and important characters in European medieval history. The usual mainstays of the Robin Hood story Little john, Friar Tuck, Will Scarlett and the evil Sheriff are all slightly in the background since as this is a prequel their parts are not yet central to the story.
As you might gather so far I've been quite complementary about this film so where does it go wrong to only warrant a three star rating?
As I said the first half of the film is pretty good setting up the scenes and fleshing to the characters as well as giving the well know story a new fresh angle, however the plot goes off the rails at about the time when Robin is told about of his forgotten past as a child. The film then tries to change itsellf into an English version of 'Braveheart' with lots of pontificating about the rights of ordinary men and 'Freedom!' It tries to link in the baron's revolt and the signing of the Magna Carta to a universal right for every man to be free at one point Robin actually says "In England, every man's home IS his castle". The whole premise apart from being historically inaccurate is also preposterous. The Magna Carta although a significant event in the shift of power from the crown to the people, only benefitted a small number of wealthy landowners. It would be inconceivable for a common man like Robin to be able to speak to baron's and kings on an equal footing let alone gain their respect of be able to convince them that the rights of the peasants were has important as those of the barons, in reality he would probably have been hung drawn and quartered for simply daring to speak up! This is a pity since the second half of the film never really recovers from this. I suppose we have to blame the writer Brian Helgeland for this misjudgement, which is surprising coming from someone with a very distinguished record having penned scripts for 'LA Confidential' , 'Mystic River' and the fun 'A Knight's Tale'.
The film's final set piece confrontation between the English forces loyal to the crown and the French invaders is also a little bit of a letdown. Without giving anything away at the end of the film the Robin Hood legend has been restored to its traditional place and as we find Robin and his merry men outlaws in Sherwood Forest, a sequel waiting to be made.
CAST & TECHIE THINGS
Russell Crowe ...Robin Longstride
Cate Blanchett ...Marion Loxley
Max von Sydow ...Sir Walter Loxley
William Hurt ...William Marshal
Mark Strong ...Godfrey
Oscar Isaac ...Prince John
Danny Huston ...King Richard the Lionheart
Eileen Atkins ...Eleanor of Aquitaine
Mark Addy ...Friar Tuck
Matthew Macfadyen ...Sheriff of Nottingham
Kevin Durand ...Little John
Scott Grimes ...Will Scarlet
Alan Doyle ...Allan A'Dayle
Douglas Hodge ...Sir Robert Loxley
Léa Seydoux ...Isabella of Angoulême
Director: Ridley Scott
Writers: Brian Helgeland
Runtime: 140mins (which is the one I watched but a director's cut at 159min is also available).
UK certificate 12 A, which is fair enough, not much to worry about for parents.
It's not a bad film with some points to admire, the cast is good and the look of the film is believable. The action sequences are to the standard we have come to expect from a director like Ridley Scott. The fault lies in the script and the need to introduce a political dimension to the story that could not have existed at the time which derails the whole project towards the end. I'd still say it's worth watching and if a sequel does come to fruition it might be even better.
A film which showed much potential but never quite realised it.
Recommended with some reservations.
© Mauri 2011
Summary: A prequel to the usual Robin Hood story