In my weekend roundup post, I’ve alluded to the fact that this version of Robin Hood is a bit Gladiator-ized, and it’s as though Scott aimed the theme to be ‘The Outlaw that defied a Kingdom.’ It’s been rumored that this movie allowed Russell and Ridley to work on a pseudo sequel to the award winning Roman epic. But did you know that the original script actually didn’t start out that way? In fact, it was as a fresh new take of the medieval hero tale, too fresh perhaps, for Hollywood studios to take a chance on.
Then it was called Nottingham, where Crowe was originally tapped to play both Robin and his nemesis the Sheriff of Nottingham. According to NY Mag, it was intended to be “.. a lighthearted Robin Hood movie, but with a clever twist: What if the infamous Sheriff of Nottingham had actually been a good guy, a dedicated public servant who’d just suffered from bad PR? What if Robin Hood was really kind of a jerk? What if they both had a thing for Marian? And what if the whole story were told from the perspective of this intriguing Sheriff?” Heh, I would’ve loved to see THAT version of Robin Hood, and that’s the script that had Crowe signed up for. Alas, Scott begged to differ, saying that it was ‘[expletive] ridiculous’ and argued that “you’d end up spending 80% of the publicity budget explaining why it was Nottingham and not just Robin Hood.” The fascinating article also mentions how this convoluted squabble over plot puts a pretty sizable dent in the Scott/Crowe relationship.
In any case, many twist and turns and countless rewrites later, we’ve got this ‘traditional’ Robin Hood which is more of an origin story of how expert archer Robin Longstride eventually becomes Robin of the Hood we know today. Here’s the basic synopsis in a nutshell:
Following the death of King Richard in a battle in France, Robin and his three newly-acquired sidekicks encounter a dying knight Robert Loxley who’ve been ambushed in their journey home carrying the dead king’s crown. The culprit is none other than the treacherous Sir Godfrey — Mark Strong essentially reprising his role in Tristan + Isolde — this time he’s siding with the French in their quest to invade England. In his last breath, Loxley made Robin promise to take his sword back to his father in Nottingham. It’s there that Robin meets two key people: Loxley’s wife Marian and her father-in-law Walter (Max Von Sydow) who helps shed some light into his childhood memory with his own father.
I guess every hero these days, no matter what era, have to have some daddy issues (see my Iron Man review).
So by now you’re asking, where’s the ‘robbing from the rich and giving to the poor’ legend that we know of? Well, there’s the amusing bit of that when he takes back the grain for Friar (Father) Tuck, but for the rest of the movie, this Robin finds himself amidst a political quandary involving a new king, his new treacherous right hand man, and the French, all the while assuming the identity of a dead knight (thus he’s known as Robin of Loxley, not Longstride).
- Despite looking rather bored and lethargic (perhaps due to that bickering mentioned above), Crowe is still a force on screen that still manages to get our attention. And Scott is a director who can create a gritty period piece like no other. The costumes, cinematography and on-location set design of the medieval world feels so real I could almost smell the dirt and damp ground the actors tread on. The whole thing feels gloomy and somber, which is both good and bad. Good because it really fits the era and the shadowy period of that time where war and poverty are prevalent. But also bad because it just makes you feel rather blue.
- A major plus point for me (as I mentioned briefly here), is Cate Blanchett’s casting, I’ll forever thank the casting director’s choice to replace Sienna Miller with the Aussie actress. The story pretty much picks upright after Robin meets Marian. The chemistry between them is subtle but it is there, and I like the understated-ness of the scene, it starts out a bit playful but changes as soon as Robin delivers the bad news.
This is why I love Blanchett, the Aussie actress is an adept thespian precisely because when I watch her, I don’t see her ‘acting.’ She makes me sympathize with Maid Marian almost instantly, and her reaction the moment she finds out about her husband’s death is heart-wrenching. No, she doesn’t squeal or whimper in such a way that her lips quiver uncontrollably. None of that overacting is necessary. She simply grows quiet, her facial expression dims as if a light bulb within her has just been plucked out. She turns around and stumbles slightly as she walks away, trying to compose herself. Not only does she grieve for the obvious loss of her husband, but she also mourn for her father in-law in losing his only son, which also shows her compassionate character.
Her chemistry with Crowe is one of the movie’s strong points. It’s not a blatant love affair, but one that grows from initial attraction to a mutual respect and eventually love. The scene where Marian finally allows Robin to embrace her as she mourns yet another loss is an especially tender and sweet moment, which is nice to see amongst all the mind-numbing action.
- The supporting cast is equally great: Danny Houston in his brief scenes as King Richard, Max Von Sydow as Sir Walter Loxley, William Hurt as William Marshall, and Oscar Isaac as the young King John, all are noteworthy. I’ve never seen Isaac before this movie but he was quite impressive here. I also didn’t know he’s Guatemalan. Wow, his British accent was spot-on I thought he was a Brit!
Reliable character Mark Strong once again proves he’s the go-to guy for bad ass villains. His cunning sir Godfrey knows first hand just how good of an archer Robin is, twice. The second one is perhaps the most gruesome but memorable scene set in extreme dramatic slo-mo. Focusing on Robin’s face as he spots his enemy, fixes his aim, arrow is released and we watch it fly across the sky and hits the target bulls eye. Ouch!
- Movie starts arduously slow. In fact, I find the first twenty minutes or so pretty tedious, I don’t know if it’s because the lead actor didn’t seem all too happy to be there or the dialog or what, but I was worried even early on that I might not make it through the rest of the movie!
- The whole movie lacks the ‘wow’ factor. Sure it looks realistic, which is commendable, but they all look like something I’ve seen before, and I’m not just referring to Bourne woods, which is the same woods as the opening battle scene in Gladiator. You’d think that given the whopping $237 million budget, we’d get to see the ‘wow’ factor the way my jaw dropped the first time I saw the Colosseum replica in Gladiator.
- Crowe’s inconsistent, unrecognizable accent doesn’t bother me as much as the humdrum dialog, which is ironic despite the fact that as the NY Mag pointed out, Scott had hired an Oscar-winning screenwriter Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare in Love) to work as an on-set dialogue polisher, which set the film’s final screenwriting tab to a staggering $6.7 million. Unlike the much-quoted Gladiator, there aren’t many lines from this movie worth remembering. I do like the ‘rise and rise again until the lambs become lions‘ line which means never give up, but that’s just about all I can recall.
- The battle scenes lacks bite because it’s been dialed back to fit a PG-13 rating. Perhaps the expensive production cost means Scott had to make sure the movie appeals to a wider audience, as an R-rating automatically means a lower profit margin. The final battle scene was the only full-throttle sequence, it’s serviceable I suppose, but stops short of the glory of the movie it’s supposed to live up to.
- This being an origins story, shouldn’t Robin be much younger? Crowe is 45 when he made this movie, making him the oldest actor to play the role of Robin Hood. Now, that’s not a criticism on the actor’s look mind you, it’s just that I always picture Robin as being in his 30s or early 40s. It’ll make it more challenging to pull off if Scott did get his way to stretch his Robin Hood story into a trilogy.
- Lack of character development. The complicated storyline is borderline claustrophobic and as there just isn’t enough time (even with 2 hrs and 20 minutes running time) to go into detail for even the fairly important characters.
- For example, Matthew MacFayden as the sheriff was given pretty brief screen time, which doesn’t allow him to do hardly anything. The only memorable scene is the last scene where Robin provides a nail for him in the form of an arrow (as you’ve seen in the trailer). I for one would like to see the real-life character William Marshall character explored a bit more also. William Hurt’s performance adds a dignified layer to the story as the loyal statesman who had a hand in the history of the Magna Carta, but I was left wanting more by the end of the movie.
In conclusion, glad I saw it even though it falls short of an ‘epic.’ As I said before, this movie is somewhat ‘critics-proof’ for me because of the Crowe-Blanchett combo, and I still stand by that notion. Without their involvement, I might not even be interested to see this. Given the flaws, I’m still curious to see a follow-up to this, because I think then we’ll see Robin being Robin now that we’ve got the ‘history’ part out of the way. Scott has said in numerous interviews that he wanted to do a trilogy of the film, but given the production problems and lack of interest from moviegoers , I seriously doubt his dream will see the light of day. As it stands now, the movie hasn’t cracked $100 million in the US, so it’s a long, arduous road to make up for the hefty budget.
Have you seen this version of ROBIN HOOD? Well, what did you think?