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Robin Hood

dir: Ridley Scott
[img_assist|nid=1308|title=It's grim up North, and especially in Russell's head|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=275]
Give it a rest, Russell, honestly.

And you too, Ridley. Stop pretending you’re all prestigious men of quality deserving awards and kudos. You’re both hacks and you know it.

And now you’ve taken a much beloved myth about some woodsy guy sticking it to The Man, and you've turned it into a grim Braveheart clone. For shame, gentlemen.

A few years ago, I remember reading a headline somewhere scrawled onto the tubes of the internets saying that Russell Crowe would be playing Robin Hood. My first and only thought was, “That’s boring, stop being so boring.”

And then I thought no more of it, until months later I read another buzzy story saying that the flick was going to be called Nottingham, and it would star Crowe in the main role, but that the clever hook would be that Crowe would be playing both the Sherriff of Nottingham, Robin’s classical antagonist, and Robin Hood as well. I don’t mean as twins or clones or anything, just that the role and script as envisaged had the Sherriff masquerading as his own fabricated enemy. Upon reading that I remember thinking, “That actually sounds a bit interesting, I wonder how they’ll pull it off.”

And then the next thing I knew, the flick had been made, and any sense of cleverness or humour had been drained from the concept, instead resorting to a fairly stock standard retelling of the tale, mixed in with the freedom / liberty bullshit American audiences apparently crave.

By that I mean: having people yelling about freedom this and taxation that in a flick set in the 12th Century is completely and utterly ahistorical, and panders to an audience that generally doesn’t go to dem there flickering motion pictures anymore. Why? Because they’re too busy teabagging around their great nation where the buffalo used to roam, finding new ways to say they are uncomfortable with having a black president without sounding too racist (but sounding just racist enough to achieve perfectly resonating outrage amongst others of their kind).

Sure, it’s a vast and lucrative market, but they don’t really want to watch Russell Crowe abstractly defending their freedom for two and a half goddamn hours. I’m not sure if anyone wants to watching Russell Crowe doing anything apart from abuse people unlucky enough to work in the service industry. He’s not exactly a bankable star anymore, with a list of projects, many of them with Ridley Scott, that get ignored critically and box office wise.

Which is a tad unfair, since he consistently puts in watchable performances. Unlike a lot of A-listers I can think of, Russell can actually vary his characterisations and performances between roles, and is happy to play second fiddle if it gives him an interesting character to play. Just as an example, his roles in American Gangster, Body of Lies, A Good Year, State of Play have all varied significantly enough to avoid the trap to which I referred earlier, that afflicts certain actors and the audiences that have to watch them.

All that being said, his Robin Hood character is Gladiator with a Yorkshire accent, and nothing more. In interviews spruiking the flick Russell gets all serious and says “We wanted to tell the true story”, implying that the other renderings were too overloaded with frippery and distractions from the core realities, themes and values from the original story.

What utter bullshit. First of all, barely anything that happens or is referenced in the story has any connection to actual history. Sure, there was a King Richard the Lionheart, who went off to the (Third) Crusades. And he had a brother called John, who probably was a shitty king. But nothing as portrayed in this flick ever happened, let’s be clear about that. He’s a dreamy outlaw character who was inspiring dissent in men and wetness in women for centuries in ballads and plays, but he wasn’t an actual historical figure who defended the realm from French invasion.

Robin Hood is a character dating back to the 13th century, but he wasn’t an actual person, so claiming that this flick has any greater verisimilitude or accuracy is an act of pure self-delusion on anyone’s part. And for Crowe to assert differently, when he was possibly (most likely) the one who forced the production’s script to be rewritten from the intended comical dual roles one into a serious and stolid freedom fighter who fights for law and order is just blatantly disingenuousness. Though the one welcome change they make in this flick is that they’ve brought the character down a peg to being a yeoman commoner again, as opposed to the dispossessed noble of more recent renderings of the character.

It’s hard to work effectively in the shadow of Kevin Costner, and his Kevin Reynolds directed megablockbuster Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and with the spectre of Costner over his shoulder, Crowe and Ridley Scott labour under the delusion that prestige and credibility will be theirs if they can just make the flick serious.

Oh so serious, it’s so serious. It’s not bad, though. For most of its length, it’s not a bad flick. Nonsense abounds, but none of it is in performances (with the exception of the crack addict they have playing King John, who screams like they’ve dropped red hot scorpions in his pantaloons at the least provocation). Russell generally does okay as Robin Longstride, as does most of the rest of the cast.

The eternal, ethereal Cate Blanchett plays Marion, with a grimness and general humourlessness that I guess is appropriate for a woman in the 12th Century. The real surprise for me, because I didn’t know he was in the flick, was Max Von Sydow as Sir Walter Loxley, who despite or because of his incredible age, continues to surprise. I can’t believe this same wonderful chap who starred as a Crusader knight half a century ago in Bergman’s The Seventh Seal is still kicking around and putting in compelling performances. God keep you just as you are, you wonderful oldster.

Through a complicated and convoluted set of circumstances that would embarrass the audience watching a crappy sitcom, commoner Robin takes the identity of Robert Loxley, and starts ordering people about. Despite the fact that he was but a lowly archer in the King’s Crusader army, Robin is not only a great bowman, he’s also a great swordsman, farmer, diplomat and linguist, engineer and cavalryman, as the flick goes to great lengths to assert. It’s almost as if at certain stages in the production Russell would front up to Scott and whine “But in this bit I want to be riding a horse. I don’t care if there’s no reason for him to be able to do it, or speak French, or to be able to know half the shit he knows, I want to look cool. And don’t you dare say no to me, or I’ll hold my breath until I turn blue, you see if I don’t. Then you’ll be sorry.”

To which Ridley, after patting him on the head would say, “Of course, Veruca, what ever you wish, Veruca my dear, please don’t cry.”

The inept way in which the flick tries to engender significance is through a subplot / possibly main theme that Robin’s father was some proto socialist who was beheaded for fomenting rebellion against divine rule and the slavery inherent in feudalism. The legacy he leaves his son, and the people, like Loxley, who remember him is that this stonemason (is this a Masonic plot?) radically threatened the powers that were, but inspired a nation of people to rise up eventually, with the oft repeated line of “Rise and rise again until lambs become lions.”

I cannot begin to tell you how much this bugged me every goddamn time it came up in the script. Oh, wait, sure I can. It was embarrassing and moronic. I can barely handle the trend in movies, many of them directed by Ridley Scott, as in the even more terrible Kingdom of Heaven, where people are given present day rhetoric and sensibilities that are meant to be translated through in ways to give old characters contemporary motivations. To me, watching these characters from eras such as the 12th Century, mumbling doggerel about freedom this and liberty that, when, in every rendering of the story for centuries before, they fought not for freedom but for the best yoke (as in, which of the better kings did you want to be ruled by), it’s as asinine as if they were fighting for iPods.

Even worse, the oft repeated line, which still makes me groan softly but painfully, is appropriated from a Buddhist text (from the bodhisattva Matreiya), from a philosophy and culture that couldn’t have cared less about the squabbles between peasants, nobles, English barons and their French-loving king. So stick that in your wimple and smoke it, Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Sure, all I’m doing is complaining, but it does okay for much of its length. Mark Strong as a traitorous French-loving Englishman called Godfrey is suitably menacing (he’s great in almost everything he does), and makes up for the lack of menace in the actual Sherriff of Nottingham, here played like an insecure hippy by Matthew Macfadyen. It’s not a good film for Macfadyen, who can and has done much better. I love Danny Huston in every single thing he does, but he’s not given enough time to shine here as King Richard.

I can forgive the flick for most of its two hours, but the last half hour is beyond ridiculous. The French invade England at Dungeness, and Ridley's cinematographer shoots it almost identically to how the Normandy Beach invasion at the beginning of Saving Private Ryan is filmed. Down to shots of troop carriers with swing doors opening at the stern, armoured French soldiers falling into water they couldn’t possibly survive in, arrows tracing trajectories through the water and hitting soldiers, wisps of blood under the slate-grey-blue water. It’s ludicrous. And Russell pelting around the beach belting people with a mace? And Maid Marion dressed up like Eowyn from Return of the King fighting for king and country wearing armour and leading the forest boys into battle?

Feh. To hell with it. The ending, after the comedic battle that was virtually a self-mocking parody, only goes to show how pointless the flick was, since it’s revealed that everything that happened during its entire length was just a prelude, an origin story, and that the actual interesting story they wanted to tell will have to wait for another instalment.

Again, feh. They should have stuck with the original idea of Robin and the Sherriff being the same person. That at least could have been interesting. Because what’s been served up here is not. It adds nothing to the rich lore associated with this character, and essentially serves as just another instalment in a canon already bursting with instalments.

Still, at least it didn’t have Christian Slater in it, or that despicable Canadian Bryan Adams singing Everything I Do, I Do it For You, so it’s got that going for it.

5 times Robin Hood: Men in Tights was funnier and more historically accurate out of 10

“Henceforth I declare you to be an outlaw!” – don’t do it, King Johnnie, it’ll just make the chicks want him even more – Robin Hood.