FlixChatter Review: Robin Hood

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.

Ridley Scott & Russell Crowe: will Robin Hood be their last 'tango' together?

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 Manreview).

Crowe's Robin prepares for battle

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).

What works:

  • 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.

    Robin & Marian's slow-burn love story
  • 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!

What doesn’t:

  • 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.

    William Hurt as William Marshall
  • 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.

23 thoughts on “FlixChatter Review: Robin Hood

  1. PrairieGirl

    I would have been much more interested in the plot twist in the original Nottingham, just like you would have, rtm.

  2. Excellent, well-written and in-depth review. The film seems to have sparked mixed reaction from critics, cinemagoers and bloggers. From your highlights I can see why. As a Ridley Scott fan I will definitely be seeing this though.

    1. Thanks Dan. I actually ignored the critics’ reviews until I watched it myself, though I did hear about the low rating on rottentomatoes. I definitely encourage you to check it out, it’s got enough going for it to make it enjoyable, and for me, having Crowe/Blanchett is a huge plus anyway.

      I like a lot of Ridley’s work, too. Now this one probably won’t end up in his Ten Best list, but still worth seeing.

  3. Nice extensive review of the movie. Glad you enjoyed it despite some snags here and there! I, too, would have loved to see more William Hurt but his character felt completely extraneous. You are right that for a movie costing $200 million+, it didn’t really look like it but I won’t really it blame for being a bit unspectacular in relation to its own budget, that’s really nitpicking there 😉

    1. It’d have to be a truly dismal movie for me not to enjoy the kind of cast this one has, so at least Ridley got that part right.

      I think the William Marshall character would be a good one to explore in the follow-up (IF that’d ever see the light of day), as he’s now caught between his allegiance to the King (or Kingdom I should say) and his regard for Robin. I for one want to see an intricate conflict being explored instead of the oversimplification of hero vs. villain theme.

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  5. “The battle scenes lacks bite because it’s been dialed back to fit a PG-13 rating.”

    That was my main issue. I don’t think an R rating would have hurt this film at all. It’s not going to top Gladiator’s box office earnings in the States, and I think with better action sequences a lot of people would have over looked some of the other aspects they thought were poor.

    1. Hi Answer, it’s really too bad that he succumbed to the studio’s wishes. I understand Robin Hood is supposed to be for all ages, but I doubt kids enjoy this as this is quite dark anyway. I can’t say if an R-rating will hurt the movie or not, but as we know, even the film now isn’t a big success even with PG-13 rating.

  6. AGREE, some battle scene reminds me of Galdiator.. But over all is a good movie, very entretaining, even Chloe watch the whole thing..:)

  7. mcarteratthemovies

    Mark Strong has a great interview in People Magazine where he talked about playing a villain. His theory is that every villain worth his salt should want to take over the world. I loooooove this guy and want to see him play more baddies.

  8. I liked it a lot, and my favorite part was the relationship of Robin and Marian. There was this restrained affection that each had for each other, and the natural unfolding of the two’s relationship is what really gripped me. I just love Cate Blanchett.

    1. I’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t adore Blanchett, but if there is then I don’t even want to know whoever that is! Yes, yes, the natural unfolding of the romance makes it all the more irresistible for me, especially in the era where people just tear each other clothes off within minutes of their encounter. Well there is a bit of that with the chain-mail removal but y’know what I mean 🙂

  9. $6.7 million tab for screenwriters!!! I would say that is absurd, because compared the the budget for other film’s writers that is massive. But bills for VFX teams rack up to $50-$70 million on most films and one lead costs as much as $15 million… so I think that’s still a bargain to spend just a fraction of that on story, which is the birthplace of the whole project.

    I agree with you though that the dialogue is highly forgettable. A few money lines would have been nice.

    1. It IS absurd, especially when you’ve got nothing to show for it! I do think screenwriters are generally grossly underpaid though, I mean compared to how much other factors cost in making a movie, so yeah like you said it’s still a relative ‘bargain.’

  10. Samantha

    Yes, yes, here I am. I know you’ve all been waiting. 😉

    Let’s see. Number 1, I absolutely agree about the “movie that wasn’t.” I LOVED the idea of Crowe playing the two characters and painting the Sheriff in a more sympathetic light … that, to me, would be holding true to his general MO of doing “movies” (as opposed to “films”) that are still intelligent and interesting. I also agree that Crowe as Robin Hood is a pretty decent idea, but Crowe as Robin Hood in an “origin film” with the intent/hope of sequels is pushing the bounds of reality quite a bit.

    As far as the movie that WAS, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I didn’t think it dragged, I thought it was quite humorous at points, I loved the chemistry between Robin and his Merry Men and Robin and Marian (DUH). Max von Sydow, Oscar Isaacs, Eileen Atkins were all awesome; Strong and Macfayden underutilized; and William Hurt confusing. Why was he there? He was fine, but it was just not a particularly interesting character, and I felt as though any of a handful of (actually British) actors could have filled in just as well. Overall, though, and a few weeks away from having seen it, I think it was overhyped. Don’t get me wrong, we all know how I feel about Crowe, and I really liked this movie, enough to hope for a sequel. But it wasn’t brilliant, nor was it anywhere near “bad” enough to send the critics into the storm of negativity they seemed to enjoy so much. Sometimes I think that Crowe’s biggest problem is that he raised the bar too high, too soon. That, and as Richard Harris put it, “He annoys them, but he’s so good they can’t ignore him.”

    I’ll watch it again at some point, and my butt will be in a seat if/when they manage to pull off a sequel. But at this point, if there was going to be one, I think we’d have already heard about it. The man isn’t getting any younger.
    Let’s maintain hope for a M&C sequel instead. Ruth, get on watching that one!!

    1. Woo hooo… such a long comment, awesome! Yeah, I think a lot more people than Ridley thought would like the ‘Nottingham’ version, funny that he feared it’d be too confusing to people. Seriously, it’s just a variation of a classic tale, not rocket science!

      Overall the pace is fine, it was just a bit too slow for my liking in the beginning. But when it picks up, it was enjoyable. I think the comparison to Gladiator ‘kills’ it, I mean if people have never seen that and RH were judged on its own merit, it’s a pretty good movie.

      Ha..ha.. I like that quote by Harris, I think if you’re going to be ‘difficult,’ then you better be good, and Crowe certainly is!

      Ok, ok, add that to my must-see list, but even just by looking at the trailer of M&C, I think I’d rather see RH sequel. And perhaps William Hurt’s character might have more significance on that one.

      1. Ah, see, you would THINK that … I had many fears that M&C would be boring, but it’s quite the opposite, in fact. It’s beautiful and riveting and the acting is just SO good … Paul Bettany was robbed in the Best Supporting category that year. I’m betting you’ll change your mind.

        PS – A blog has begun!

        1. No I don’t think that it’d be boring, I just prefer RH types of stories. But I’ll give it a chance on account of Crowe. Not a Bettany fan, sorry…

          YES! I left you a couple of comments already and you’re on my blogroll now. Welcome to the blogosphere!

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