King Richard The Lionheart is fighting an unpopular war with France. One of his best archers is a man named Robin Longstride. On a night before the big taking of a castle, King Richard wants to know what an honest man thinks of his war, and Robin Longstride, who’s just been in a tussle with a man named Little John, voices an incorrect opinion and finds himself along with his men then put into laughingstocks and made to sit out the taking of the castle. Well, King Richard gets killed and when word reaches Robin and his men, they immediately desert because their prospects of being payed by a dead king are pretty slim. Along the way back home to England. Robin and his men come across Sir Robin Loxley of Nottingham, one of the king’s most trusted men. Loxley and his men have been ambushed by the French as they’re along the way to return the king’s crown back to England. Robin Loxley is dying and in his final moments, he asks Robin Longstride to return his sword back to his father, Sir Walter Loxley. Robin Longstride agrees and he assumes the identity of Robin Loxley and makes his way back to England, where civil war is about to erupt.
That’s the premise to this newest version of Robin Hood from director Ridley Scott, writer Brian Helgeland and lead actor Russell Crowe. This movie attempts to give a new origin to the legend, but one that has a lot more weight to it than what previous films have done. What it does instead, at least for me, was deliver a huge mess, and at least in my mind, deliver the worst movie of the year so far.
This re-writes the legend in a big way. Now that prospect doesn’t really bother me as long as the creative team is committed to what they’re doing. For instance, Quentin Tarantino does it well with Inglourious Basterds, (though what he’s re-writing is based on fact) and I’m one of those who really appreciates Antoine Fuqua’s re-telling of the legend of King Arthur in King Arthur. But with Robin Hood, it appears that director Ridley Scott really doesn’t give a damn about even wanting to really deal so much with Robin Hood and more wants to do something that has a lot more angst to it and deliver his own very thinly veiled political message.
Now from what I understand, this movie has a pretty checkered history. Scott was (and again, this is all from what I understand) contracted to deliver a Robin Hood movie and the original film that he was going to do was going to have the same man in the role of both Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham, which of course, sounds like a pretty bad idea. There was also supposed to be some issues with Russell Crowe when he came on board (I think mostly around some weight gain that Crowe had for a prior film that he made with Scott) which in turn caused a re-casting of Lady Marion (played here by Cate Blanchett). These things don’t really give one a lot of confidence that it mattered to these guys about actually wanting to tell the story of Robin Hood, so they came up with their own way of doing it.
Now that’s fine and dandy if they commit to what they’re doing, and as the movie plays out, this first seems to be like it will be a watchable version of the story, though unremarkable when compared to the other Robin Hood films. But then we get to the end of the movie… and oh man…
The last five minutes of the movie betrays everything that’s been set up in the prior two hours and basically tries to set Robin Hood back to it’s status quo, with Robin still considered one of the greatest of outlaws. The ending here absolutely makes no sense, especially considering what has happened to get it to this place. This ending feels very tacked on. It’s like Universal wanted to set this up for a possible franchise, Scott didn’t give a damn about that, told the story that he wanted to tell, and then made it safe for Universal to pursue a series if they wanted to. Who cares if it made any sense?
The real shame is that you have a lot of talented people connected to this and it just didn’t seem like anyone’s heart was actually in it, except for the craftsmen who were trying to make sure that it was technically proficient and some of the supporting cast who genuinely look like they’re trying to make the best of what they can with the situation.
Crowe’s Robin is a uninspired (and I say this as a fan of his prior work). There’s really nothing in the opening of the piece that makes you as an audience member want to really get behind him. Points come out along the way to try and rally you behind him, but Crowe just doesn’t feel like his heart is in this, except for a few moments when he has some scenes with Max Von Sydow, who plays Sir Walter Loxley. Cate Blanchett does the best that she can with this, but there is really no chemistry between her and Crowe. Scenes between the two that are meant to evoke some sort of emotion and eroticism basically fall flat and are pretty boring. You just want to move on to the next scene. Mark Strong is in this film (I think he’s supposed to be in every big movie these days), playing the villainous Godfrey and Englishman who has an allegiance to the French. Again, Strong does his best with what’s here, but what’s here isn’t so much a character as a plot device and so this villain doesn’t really have a lot of fire to him.
There’s better work from the support here. Kevin Durand and Mark Addy are really well-cast as both Little John and Friar Tuck. Scott Grimes and Alan Doyle are also well cast as Will Scarlet and Allan A’Dayle. These four are the actual “Merry Men” of the piece and they’re the only ones who look like they’re actually bringing any fun to the movie, something this sorely lacks. I mentioned Max Von Sydow above, and he’s also solid in his part, and for the age of his character actually brings a lot of life to the piece. There’s also appearances by William Hurt as William Marshal and Danny Huston as King Richard The Lionheart and they’re both solid, though I think Huston fares a little better.
In the end, this was for me a huge mess. It’s few bright spots are limited to it’s technical proficiency and some of the supporting work. There’s no real chemistry or passion amongst it’s leads and there’s just no sense of fun. Deconstruction is certainly the rage these days in lots of forms of entertainment. I think it works best though when there’s still some sort of semblance in place to the source and there’s little of that here. The biggest thing missing though is any sort of sense of fun and any sort of passion for the source. Kevin Costner’s version, Robin Hood Prince Of Thieves is a much maligned movie (though I don’t get it, I loved it), and by the end of this movie, it just made me want to re-visit that all the more. This movie is an inflated waste of talent, and for me, so far the worst movie of the year.