Directed by Ridley Scott
Starring Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Matthew Macfadyen, Mark Strong, Mark Addy, Kevin Durand, William Hurt, Danny Huston, Oscar Isaac
Screenplay Brian Helgeland
Ridley Scott has made some of the best films of all time (Alien, Black Hawk Down), some great films (Gladiator, Blade Runner, Thelma and Louise, American Gangster), some good films (A Good Year, Matchstick Men) and oodles of others that get good word of mouth but end up disappointing somewhat (Kingdom of Heaven, Hannibal, Black Rain, etc.). The point is, he’s worth taking a gamble on. Sometimes you win big, and sometimes you lose big, with the comfort of knowing he tried. This is one of the latter films.
When I heard that he was re-making the Robin Hood tale with Russel Crowe, my first, second and third thought was, “Dear God, why did they kill Maximus at the end of Gladiator?” There was no need for this film. Robin Hood had already been taken to the bank a few too many times. Kevin Costner’s version was so bad it derailed his career. The Mel Brooks parody Robin Hood: Men in Tights had a similar effect on his long and successful career. Post 911, the cheerfulness of the Robin Hood character would seemingly be vacant and superfluous. And this does not even begin to explain what is wrong with the film.
Let’s start first with the story. It’s convoluted, to be sure. It tries to make a real life sensibility to the situation of robbing from the rich and stealing from the poor. They make King Richard The Lionheart (Huston) a little more of a scavenger, who was aware of the real business behind the crusades was not salvation, but to elicit ill-gotten loot. He knew the kingdom was going broke, and he dies in the process of trying to steal the wealth of others. For his part, it’s not enough that we have King John (Isaac) raising taxes, we have him easily swayed to do so by a suspicious Sir Godfrey (Strong) who is conspiring with the French. Ah, the French. Always a reliable villainous sleaze. Strange to see them in the story of Robin Hood, though.
So Robin seemed okay with his King looting other countries, because he is, you know, loyal to England. It is made very obvious by the time they get back to England that the bad guy has a scar, courtesy of Robin Hood’s bow. So then we have to wait it out and see how much more suffering will occur before the bad guy dies. Maid Marian (Blanchett) is given the traditional Ridleyan (or Ripleyan) strength, enduring hard times and the death of her husband as a new and improved one comes along pretending to be the first. Yes, convoluted.
The casting provides other issues here. The bad guys are too plain, except for the French guy, who looks stereotypically gay.
Little John (Durand) is not a counter to Robin in this one, and although he is clever, neither is Friar Tuck (Addy). Lots of stoic fools are up against it, here. William Hurt, playing the displaced William Marshal, seems really out-of-place and with a bad perm. What happened to him? Cate Blanchett is good, as usual. It’s hard to think of her miscast in any film. Crowe, however, looks uncomfortable in his tights. No doubt they put him here to give the role much-needed heft. Lots of grim stares, and that disquieting smile. The lack of chemistry between them is all the fault of Crowe’s sour puss.
Direction is another failing in this film. The action scenes are good, usual in a Scott film, but the entire world created in the atmosphere makes every battle not only not worth winning but almost entirely worth losing, just to get out of the grime. At least the Gladiator had Rome…and Elysium. Scott has made every character so grim and dour, it looks like no one is really having a good time except when it’s time to sing.
One of the very best things about this film is the soundtrack. The time when his men seem most merry is when they break out in song, Every tune in this movie is memorable, but they can’t sing for the whole movie.
This is a film that truly did not need to be made. They should have just created an original story instead of ripping apart an over-used legend. It feels like a burden to watch.
This is one of the first movies I have been to that I ever felt like walking out of. After a long day working a job that can wear you down, who wants to be worn down further by their entertainment?
(** out of *****)