Mark Reviews Movies

ROBIN HOOD (2010)

1  Stars (out of 4)

Director: Ridley Scott

Cast: Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Max von Sydow, William Hurt, Mark Strong, Oscar Isaac, Danny Huston, Eileen Atkins, Mark Addy, Matthew Macfadyen, Kevin Durand, Scott Grimes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for violence including intense sequences of warfare, and some sexual content)

Running Time: 2:20

Release Date: 5/14/10


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Review by Mark Dujsik | May 13, 2010

Robin Hood, an inherently useless look at the origin of the folklore hero, drains the character of all significance. Set before his fall to an outlaw and rise in popularity (yet strangely placed years after the traditional time setting of the stories), the movie envisions Robin Hood as a bland pawn used in the machinations of others.

The history of the Robin Hood myth spans back almost as far the movie's setting, and yet, for all intents and purposes, screenwriter Brian Helgeland dismisses almost all of it. This is not the man who stole from the rich and gave to the poor of folksy hero/cautionary figure (depending on your outlook) of tales of yore.

The story cobbles together muddled history, confused politics, and underdeveloped character and dramatic arcs. The usual players are all here but relegated to side-players in their own respective stories.  It's one thing to start off with a blank slate, but Robin Hood goes further and neglects to fill in anything.

Russell Crowe is Robin Longstride, an archer in King Richard the Lionheart's (Danny Huston) army, returning from the king's Crusade in the Holy Land and sacking the castles of France on the way to help pay for the cost of his war.

Being the "honest, brave, and nave" prototypical Englishman of Richard's opinion (after discovering the hero in a ploy Henry V used, too), Robin and his soon-to-be band of companions are placed in the stocks. After a well-placed arrow ensures that Richard will not be able to become the deus ex machina at the end of the story, these renegades don the garb of knights and return to England, where all kinds of plots are playing.

Richard's brother John (Oscar Isaac) takes up the crown, marries a new wife of French royalty, decides higher taxes are the answer to pay off his predecessor's war, and trusts Godfrey (Mark Strong) to collect from the richest members of the kingdom.

Godfrey is the wrong man for the job, though, as he's working with the king of France in a plan to upset the people against their king, making way for a French invasion during the distraction. He's also the wrong man for the French king's strategy, using French soldiers, who don't hide their nationality, in his tax-collecting raids, although no one seems to notice or care that the soldiers and their leader speak French regularly.

Meanwhile, Robin assumes the guise of a dead knight, returns to the man's home in Nottingham, where the knight's old, blind father Walter (Max von Sydow) wants Robin to continue the charade so that his daughter-in-law Marion (Cate Blanchett) can rightfully inherit the land after his inevitable death. It's a plan perhaps more complicated and ill-advised than Godfrey's.

The scope of the narrative is vast, and the tone shifts just as much between each section. The domestic and international schemes are spoken in emptied rooms and deserted forests, and they become continual exposition instead of political intrigue. Add in a bevy of characters, like John's mother (Eileen Atkins) and his former chancellor (William Hurt), who have similar secretive meetings that lead to further story-laying, and it becomes monotonous.

Godfrey's power plays at least make him a generically credible villain, but John's character is inconsistent scene to scene. When he learns of Godfrey's betrayal, he is outraged. After that, he is intent on playing into the traitor's plan to make an example of the libertarian barons threatening civil war against him. When he meets with the barons, suddenly he is willing and determined to compromise (with crossed fingers, of course).

Robin and Marion's awkward courtship plays like an ill-defined comedy of errors, pretending to be husband and wife to fool the servants, sleeping in the same room (She in bed; he on the floor with the dogs), and eventually allowing the nonexistent tension between them to dry fire. Robin's band of merry, drunken men becomes the comedy for the groundlings by default.

Without any definitive characterizations with which to work (the closest being Robin's mysterious past, which turns out to fit squarely into the freedom-fighting barons' story but complicates Robin's creation of the communal paradise of Sherwood Forest), the acting is hollow all around. Director Ridley Scott depends on Marc Streitenfeld's score (Robin rides through Nottingham is triumphant, the news to Marion about her husband is sacred, and even Robin's battle cry in one moment is overshadowed by a flaring of horns) and multiple zooms towards concerned faces for the movie's emotional cues.

This version of Robin Hood is a messy, unnecessary story, which has a few visceral moments in Scott's handling of medieval battles. The Robin of lore does appear in final moments, but by that point, the movie has made him unrecognizable and dulled whatever feelings we might have for the outlaw hero.

Copyright 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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