Robin Hood Review
Ridley Scottís timing couldnít be better. In a week thatís seen a new Prime Minister assuming power thanks to a political system that has failed its people, itís strangely appropriate to be reminded of Englandís most famous outlaw. From the filmís opening scrawl citing a Ďtime when kings were tyrantsí to the storyís central theme of individual liberty and the importance of rulers listening to their people, Scottís take on the legendary figure offers plenty of moments to provoke chuckles of contemporary recognition, and perhaps even hopes that we had our own Robin Hood in action today.
But whether we would want this Robin Hood, or Robin Longstride, as he is renamed here, is debatable. The trailer promised a version of the story that weíd never been told before, and Scott and writer Brian Helgeland make good on that claim; this story ends where most previous tellings have begun, with Robin declared an outlaw and hiding out in Sherwood Forest. But Scottís film also inadvertently makes plain why this part of Robinís life is usually confined to backstory; itís not that interesting, and Robin himself doesnít actually do much in it. Weíre used to seeing Robin Hood as a decisive leader of men and a dashing romantic hero, but here he is redrawn as a man carried along by the tides of circumstance, a small pawn in a much bigger political game.
This may well be a truer historical depiction of the real Robin Hood, if there ever was one, but itís not the stuff of enduring cinema. For all his drawling Americanisms, Kevin Costnerís version of Robin, in 1991ís great fun Prince of Thieves, earned his place in movie history by firing that flaming arrow in slow-motion and making that heroic roof-top dive through a stained-glass window. The Robin that we meet here (Russell Crowe, excellent as always) has none of that heroism or heart. Thatís intentional of course; Scott is trying to show us what made Robin change from a man living only for himself to a man willing to live and die for his woman and his people. The problem is that, in the larger historical context that Scott offers, Robinís story just doesnít seem like such a big deal.
Unsurprisingly, itís in creating that larger context that Scott really succeeds, because he is a truly great film director, and given a big enough canvas he can bring a whole world to life. He has that canvas in 12th Century England, and he establishes the world with the same structure as he did in Gladiator; a huge, brilliantly depicted battle, followed by a mass of scenes that set up the fraught political situation in the country and skilfully introduce us to all the storyís main characters. Thereís a lot of drama and intrigue to enjoy, and a host of great actors, including a fantastic Max von Sydow, playing it out.
Ultimately though, all this compelling background canít make up for the gaping hole at the centre of the movie. Robin is a bystander in his own film: both Matthew Macfadyenís Sheriff of Nottingham and Mark Strongís villainous Godfrey are hardly aware of Robinís existence, giving him no great enemy to conflict with, while his courtship with Marion (Cate Blanchett) is forced Ė literally Ė and fledgling, giving him no passionate romance to pursue. In their efforts to do something new and different with the Robin Hood character, Scott and his merry band of filmmakers have robbed him of everything that made him great.