Brian Helgeland, Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris
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, Alan Doyle, Douglas Hodge, Léa Seydoux
PG-13 for violence including intense sequences of warfare, and some sexual content.
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The story has been told in countless ways, yet every generation a director thinks they have the be-all-end-all interpretation of the Robin Hood legend. Ridley Scott won’t be the last director to try out the story, but I hope he will be the last for a while.
The character of Robin Hood has appeared in more than 110 films and television programs dating all the way back to the first in 1912. Donning the green tights and bow, Russell Crowe continues the tradition of leading men taking on the role. The character’s fame is understandable, he vouchsafes the virtuous, he vanquishes the villainous…wait, that’s another movie altogether, but it is proof that the legend is significantly influential on popular culture. And Crowe does well portraying the celebrated archer even if he doesn’t give the definitive rendition.
Also to be commended, and more so than Crowe, is Cate Blanchett whose “Maid” Marion is a strong-willed woman (like most of her characters) who conveys sorrow, passion and vigor better than anyone around her. Her best scene comes when Robin arrives at her “estate” to bring her news of her husband’s passing. Her controlled delivery, subtle facial expressions and convincing movement is the epitome of great acting, but as far as Blanchett is concerned, we shouldn’t expect anything different.
The story departs heavily from most previous accounts, attempting to set it in the real world of historical events. Yet, in doing so, the writers have heavily altered the actual fall of Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston) and the ascension of his conniving brother John (Oscar Isaac). Several historical inaccuracies are present, but few would probably notice unless they did a bit of research on the period.
Matter of fact, researching Robin Hood itself is more interesting than some elements of the film, which has significant patches of dry meandering. Much of the film feels like it’s aimlessly wandering through the story hoping the legend itself will propel the action forward. Several sequences lack the kind of zest one has come to expect from the genre. Scott’s film ends up being one part Gladiator and two parts Braveheart which isn’t a welcome comparison, at least to me.
Brian Helgeland, Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris have tried desperately to create a realism-entrenched narrative that tries to establish Robin Longstride as a genuine figure in history and not just a bard’s creation, yet most of those original ballads don’t include the figures depicted in this film. As the legend grew, more characters were added to the story such as Marion and Friar Tuck whose origins come decades, if not centuries after the legends themselves began and may have been imported from other celebrations. Thus, the result is less a literal interpretation of historical records and more an amalgamated collection of legends trying to keep all the commonly held figures in place so as not to anger fans of the stories.
Other than Crowe and Blanchett, Eileen Atkins as Richard and John’s mother Eleanor of Aquitaine is the only high quality performer in the film. She should have had more to do in the film than the few segments she had and, were there to be an actual historical picture drawn about Eleanor or Richard and John, she would be the actress I would prefer to take on the role.
Many of the other actors are decent, but nowhere near the quality level of others. Huston, Max von Sydow as Sir Walter Loxley, Mark Addy as Friar Tuck, Kevin Durand as Little John, Scott Grimes as Will Scarlet and Alan Doyle as Allan A’Dayle fall into this category. That leaves William Hurt as William Marshal, Oscar Isaac as Prince John and Mark Strong as the French-supporting Godfrey as the film’s weakest links. (Interesting side note: only six of the fifteen principle characters in the film are played by actors of the same nationality.)
Hurt is normally a better actor than this. His performance falls into that unfortunate category of “Performing for a Paycheck”. He seems utterly disinterested in the story throughout the film, perfunctorily delivering his lines with as little verve or tenacity as he normally would. Strong and Isaac have been given depthless villains to portray. Their performances border on the ridiculous, as many such archetypal creations do. They glare, proclaim and scream when needed but never leap out of the screen as fully realized characters, which falls back on the writing team and director Ridley Scott for not realizing them more fully.
Of course, with a story like this, it’s hard not to paint these individuals as one-dimensional bad guys. All of the previous incarnations treat them the same way. Yet, better actors might have drawn more volatile and vulnerable qualities from them. When comparing Braveheart’s villains with those in the similarly themed Rob Roy, you can quickly tell the difference between the depthless grandiosity of Patrick McGoohan in the former to the cold machinations of Tim Roth in the latter. There’s a reason Roth earned an Oscar nomination and McGoohan didn’t. Not that McGoohan was or was not a better actor than Roth, but Roth did more to create a credible character in Rob Roy, which enabled him to transcend the common expectations of the villain and attempt to drive the conceit in a believable direction.
Then there’s the sheriff of Nottingham, a character that has always figured prominently in the Robin Hood stories. Despite his prominence, he is relegated to the background and has no notable impact on the tale. Matthew Macfadyen gets nothing really to do, so I can’t really fault him for not trying harder, but I can fault the screenwriters for not developing the character to the central importance it should have had.
Robin Hood, like Crowe, is not the definitive version of the story, but it’s a passable one with many elements that do work. The period detail and creative elements of the film are impressive and with the charisma of the two leads, the audience is easily drawn into the story. The primary thrust of the story pulls the viewer in, but it too often relies heavily on artifice and traditional narrative elements to propel itself forward preventing the film from elevating the genre to a new height.
Nationalities of the principle actors:
- Mark Strong as Godfrey
- Eileen Atkins as Eleanor of Aquitaine
- Mark Addy as Friar Tuck
- Matthew Macfadyen as Sheriff of Nottingham
- Douglas Hodge as Sir Robert Loxley
- Russell Crowe as Robin Longstride
- Cate Blanchett as Marion Loxley
- Kevin Durand as Little John
- Alan Doyle as Allan A’Dayle
- William Hurt as William Marshal
- Scott Grimes as Will Scarlet
- Max von Sydow as Sir Walter Loxley
- Oscar Isaac as Prince John
- Léa Seydoux as Isabella of Angoulême
- Danny Huston as King Richard The Lionheart (born in Italy, but traveled a great deal growing up)
June 4, 2010