Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Robin Hood (2010)

Have you ever been watching Errol Flynn swashbuckling his way across the screen in The Adventures of Robin Hood and thought to yourself "Gee, this is a pretty good story, but it's too fun. If only there was a movie about Robin Hood that was less colourful, maybe a bit more drab and plodding." I haven't, but I guess Ridley Scott has. Being a post-Gladiator Ridley Scott film, this one has the stink of "realism" all over it. That's not to say that it's a deconstruction of the Robin Hood myth or particularly interested in moral ambiguity. What realism means in this case is a brown-and-grey colour palette, a dour, humourless Robin Hood and lots of mud and grime and violence. No blood though, that could cut into some of that sweet PG-13 money.

In this version of the story, Robin, Little John, Alan-A-Dale and Will Scarlett are lowly soldiers in King Richard's army, sacking their way through France on their return from the Third Crusade. Robin is embittered and disenfranchised with the monarchy after taking part in the Siege of Acre, and after King Richard is killed in battle, the four of them decide to desert and return home. On the way they come across the aftermath of an ambush, and Robin promises a dying knight, Sir Robert Loxley, that he will return Loxley's sword to his father in Nottingham. It turns out that these knights were tasked with bringing news of the King's death back to England, so Robin and his men assume the identity of the knights and score a free ride home.

Robin fulfills his promise and tells the knight's blind old father, Sir Walter Loxley (Max Von Sydow) of his son's death. Sir Walter then proposes that Robin live with him as his departed son, allowing Robin to continue his identity theft unabated. Part of the package involves shacking up with Robert Loxley's fiance Marian (Cate Blanchett, whose age means they delicately avoid the title "Maid", although Robin generously refers to her as "girl" at one point). She frostily rebuffs his advances at first (pulls a knife on him etc) but eventually warms up to his fierce sense of social justice. Sir Walter provides sage advice and eventually does a Vulcan mind meld with Robin that makes him remember that his father was involved with writing the Magna Carta or some stupid bullshit.

While all this is going on, the newly crowned King John (Oscar Isaac, who seems to be only guy in the cast having any fun) aligns himself with the traitorous French-aligned Sir Godfrey (Mark Strong), paving the way for a French invasion of England. It doesn't make a lot of sense, but it gives Crowe a chance to climb onto a stage and give a rousing speech to unite the disgruntled Lords before leading them into a Saving Private Ryan inspired beach invasion battle. I know we're a long way from the Ridley Scott of Alien or Blade Runner, but this obsession with large-scale CGI-enhanced battles has to stop. The whole deal with Robin Hood was that he was a man of the people, a little guy making a difference by striking back against The Man. Seeing him lead a few hundred soldiers into battle against evil, cackling Frenchmen seems to be missing the point.

And that's pretty much it. Don't expect any Robin Hood derring-do, as it's more of an origin story, the Batman Begins of Robin Hood films. This is a problem, because I've never felt that the motivations of Robin Hood were a perplexing mystery that's worth exploring. There was injustice and inequality brought about by a tyrant King, so Robin becomes an outlaw. Pretty simple and understandable. This film provides a muddled backstory that nobody really asked for. Perhaps wealth distribution was too controversial a topic in the current politically-charged climate, so they put in a bunch of scenes with evil Frenchmen (the French are depicted as almost universally evil in this film, which probably made a debut at Cannes a pretty poor decision on their part) and Robin ranting about taxation and government. The Teabaggers should eat that shit up.

Performances are pretty good, even if the dialogue gets a bit corny at times. Everything looks nice and authentic. This isn't a poorly made film by any means; this is Ridley Scott we're talking about here, not Tony Scott. I didn't hate it, it just seems so meandering and pointless. The movie seems content to bumble around with boring political subplots while the fun, traditional Robin Hood elements get pushed into the background. Hell, the Sheriff of Nottingham has about four lines in the entire film. It's a pity, since the original script for this film, simply entitled Nottingham, actually was a deconstruction, depicting a heroic Sherriff of Nottingham (who would have been played by Russel Crowe) fighting back against the terrorist activities of Robin Hood. Now that's a film I'd be interested in seeing.

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