Saturday, March 16, 2013

Robin Hood (2010)

One of the common criticisms I remember reading about Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven (2005) was the casting of Orlando Bloom as the protagonist, Balian de Ibelin, defender of Jerusalem and its people. I thought he did fine, but when an actor best known for playing a pretty-boy elf rubs shoulders with the likes of Liam Neeson, Jeremy Irons, and Edward Norton, he will probably look out of place to some people in the audience. Scott must have agreed on some level because in his next historic epic, Robin Hood (2010), he re-teamed with the rugged actor who took him to box-office and Oscar glory in Gladiator, Russell Crowe, to play Sherwood's favorite socialist archer.

It might be more accurate to label this version of Robin Hood a prequel rather than a re-imagining. We see how a common archer in King Richard's army, Robin Longstride (Crowe), deserts with his cohorts shortly after the king is killed in France and winds up taking the identity of a fallen Nottingham knight as he returns to England, where he continues the ruse at the insistence of the man's father, Lord Walter Loxley (Max von Sydow), and the reluctance of his widow, Lady Marion Loxley (Cate Blanchett). Meanwhile, Prince John (Oscar Isaac) becomes King John, imposing harsh taxes on an already-impoverished populace bled dry by years of foreign campaigning, using his trusted advisor Godfrey (Mark Strong) to carry out his orders but not realizing Godfrey is a French double agent using harsh methods to divide the country in preparation for an invasion by King Phillip.

Like Kingdom of Heaven, Robin Hood has a plot built on political and economic intrigue surrounding the throne and the plight of the common man punctuated by large-scale battles of armies clashing on horseback and fortified cities being stormed. The main difference, of course, is that Robin Hood is set in the fields, forests, and cities of England and not Jerusalem and its surrounding deserts. These similarities with Scott's previous work, along with other epics such as Braveheart and combined with the already familiar elements of the Robin Hood tale, are what keep Robin Hood from being as rousing as it could have been.

Let me just say Robin Hood is not a bad movie. Like the movie's mentioned, the visual and production elements of the film are astounding. The period details are convincing, the scenery is beautiful, and the action scenes, though dominated by a shaky camera and furiously-cut editing that sometimes make them hard to follow, are exciting. It's more than two-and-a-half hours long, and I was absorbed for most of it and impressed by many of the performances.

But while complicated politics and loyalties work in a historical movie about two religions and numerous factions jostling for control of the Holy Land, those same elements feel more bogged down when applied to a more mythical and heroic story like Robin Hood, and the result is a more muddled storyline. On a fundamental level, should the audience really care if England's tyrant is deposed by a French one? King John is a weak, ineffectual ruler, but he's not really the villain. The Sheriff of Nottingham is here and played by Matthew Macfadyen, but his screen time is limited and mostly played for laughs. The real villain here is Godfrey, but he's not as nasty as Alan Rickman's sheriff if Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, and because he's an underling of King Phillip, who only has a couple of scenes, he feels less like a calculating mastermind and more like a tool for a much greater nemesis who never shows up.

Crowe is fine as hero and leader of men, but he's not really Robin Hood; he's Maximus Wallace with a bow and arrow (though to be fair, he is more convincing in the role than Kevin Costner was in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves). Consider a scene where he interrogates a French soldier by firing arrows around him to scare him. I can picture Errol Flynn doing something similar, but he would have been playful, clearly never intending to hit the man (at least clearly to the audience). Crowe's Robin actually nails the guy's hand to a wall with an arrow. This Robin Hood is darker, more brooding, and intense; he's a soldier, not a swashbuckler.

The rest of the cast is mixed. Blanchett is good as Lady Marian, and I liked how her relationship with Robin develops. She comes to gradually respect and even love the man pretending to be her husband when she sees he really does care for the common people. The best performance is von Sydow as the aged, blind Lord Loxley; at first he seems crazy, but his appearance hides a sharp mind. His best moment comes when he is confronted by the man who killed his son, and his grief is palpable. Of the merry men, only Mark Addy as the beekeeping Friar Tuck stands out; the rest - Little John, Alan A'Dayle, and Will Scarlet - are fun when they're on screen, but at this point in the Robin Hood mythos, they aren't all that important. William Hurt is wasted as William Marshall, a lord loyal to King Richard who doesn't do much except look stern, and Eileen Atkins as Eleanor, mother of Richard and John, knows the politicking of kingdoms but is all but forgotten about by the end.

No comments:

Post a Comment