Robin Hood reviewed

Robin Hood is the fifth time director Ridley Scott has teamed up with his Gladiator star Russell Crowe. This time they tackle the legend of Britain’s favourite archer-bandit, who is celebrated for stealing from the corrupt rich to give to the poor and downtrodden. Scott’s Robin Hood, however, isn’t based on the well known tales of Nottingham Forest’s most famous resident. Although the film lifts elements and characters from the old stories, the new Robin Hood is essentially a reality-tinged origin story – explaining how Robin Longstride/Loxley came to be a hero of the people, and a despised enemy of English authorities.

Robin Hood is better than its trailers led viewers to believe, but at the same time the movie doesn’t quite achieve a comfortable balance between fantasy and gritty reality. The end result is a film that is entertaining, but marred by some jarring aspects.

Of all the things that can be said about Robin Hood, one of the most immediately obvious is that it is never boring. Not once during the 2 hour and 20 minute run time does your interest disengage, and for that director Scott deserves praise. Robin Hood is a beautiful and authentic looking film that bounces between The Tudors-style political posturing (involving real life historical figures), rousing medieval battles and a few of the more fantastic elements of the Robin Hood legend. The film is much more gratifying than Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven, which is also set in the 12th Century.

Performances in Robin Hood are also very good. I was worried about Russell Crowe phoning in his Gladiator performance, but Crowe’s Robin is nowhere near as intense as Maximus. Although the character does have one grating speech about how “every Englishman’s home is his castle” and suddenly transforms into a respected military commander despite being simply a peasant archer, Robin is otherwise likeably noble – and appropriately a bit rough around the edges, with a sense of humour to match.

Crowe’s Robin demonstrates convincing camaraderie with his band of “merry men” – now treated as fellow archers from the Crusades – and has a surprising amount of chemistry with Cate Blanchett’s “old maid” version of Lady Marion, a feisty woman trying to run a noble estate despite poverty.

As a side note, for those who have complained that Crowe is too chunky to play Robin Hood, he’s built like the real life medieval archers who required a lot of strength to handle giant longbows.

In terms of stand-out characters and performances on the whole, it's the English royals who are the most interesting and amusing. Danny Huston portrays King Richard as a reckless, guilt-ridden man who has developed a death wish as a result of his bloody Crusades exploits. Meanwhile, in the biggest surprise of all, unknown Oscar Isaac steals the film as pompous Prince/King John, who is desperate to flex his political muscle after being the “runt of the royal litter” for so long. While not as over the top as Alan Rickman in 1991’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Isaac achieves much the same kind of villainous screen dominance. He’s the character the audience loves to hate.

As for other performances, Mark Strong is in standard villain mode, Eileen Atkins (as Eleanor of Aquitaine) and Max Von Sydow add some much needed majesty and maturity to the screen, Mark Addy is brilliantly cast as mead-obsessed Friar Tuck, and, although his role is surprisingly small, Matthew Macfayden portrays the Sheriff of Nottingham as lazy and lecherous. If there is to be a Robin Hood sequel, presumably the Sheriff will have a bigger role.

It’s a pity then that for all these positives Robin Hood includes several distracting miscalculations in terms of revamping the legend. Robin for example returns to Nottingham chiefly to learn more about his forgotten childhood. In the process he discovers that his father was a champion of the common people, calling for a classless society in which everyone is equal. Suddenly Robin is spouting the same message, which seems ridiculous in 12th Century England – especially when the filmmakers are trying to portray this Robin Hood as more historically realistic.

Then there’s the fact that Lady Marion suffers from Eowyn syndrome. While the audience can buy Marion defending herself against a rape attempt, given what we’ve already witnessed of her self-sufficiency and toughness, Marion’s sneaking into battle – to immediately be targeted by Strong’s villain – is roll-your-eyes ridiculous, and seen way too many times in movies before. An edited version of Robin Hood that strips out these two clich├ęs would vastly improve the film.

All this said, in the end I would probably still recommend Robin Hood for anyone looking for some medieval costumed drama, and old school action focused on easily dirtied, flesh-and-blood people as opposed to CGI-armies running at each other. It’s for these reasons that I’d still classify the flawed Robin Hood as one of the better movie reimaginings of 2010.


I enjoyed reading your review. I think sometimes we just have to put so called 'historical accuracy' in a seperate box from Robin Hood movies. The idea that this production is anything like 'life' in 12th century England is laughable.

It seemed to me the whole film is geared up for a sequel and if they do make Robin Hood2, his outlaw life in Sherwood might be more enjoyable.
Pfangirl said…
Clement, thanks for taking the time to comment. It will be very interesting to see if a Robin Hood sequel will be discussed in the coming months.

You and so many other people have mentioned that it seems likely, and from a story perspective it certainly makes sense. The Sheriff for example received very little screen time, and King John needs to receive his comeuppance. However, Crowe and Ridley Scott don't seem to ever make sequels, which makes me wonder if this Robin Hood was actually just conceived as a once-off thing. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

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