Cast: Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Max Von Sydow, Mark Strong, Oscar Isaac, William Hurt, Danny Huston, Matthew McFadyen.
Director: Ridley Scott
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There is history. There is myth. And somewhere in between these approved fictions and those neglected realities is legend.
Perhaps weary of tights, director Ridley Scott chooses to literalize the legend of Robin Hood, grounding it in the reality of the Crusades. Robin Longstride, a common archer in the Crusader army of King Richard the Lionheart, assumes the identity of a dying knight on the way home from war.
Returning the man’s family sword to his father, he is asked to stay on as the dead man. He takes his wife, Lady Marion, and settles in the forest village of Nottingham. Grain is short. Orphans play Lord of the Flies in the woods. Unaffordable taxes are long overdue.
In faraway London, the new King John has an army to pay, a treasury to fill, and a mistress to please. What better way than to wring more taxes from the already impoverished countryside? He sends an army to collect. Little does he know the troops are actually French horsemen at the command of a traitor, the prelude of a French plot to take over England.
What happened to “steal from the rich to give to the poor?” Robin Hood features barely any noble thievery, as Scott pursues grander historical and thematic scale. I’m just glad he was able to work in both a French invasion and the Magna Charta. I was worried for a minute that we’d miss out on one or the other.
As history, all these elements are nonsensical in combination. But Scott’s concern isn’t that era but rather this one. As with Gladiator, he stuffs the modern world into the trunk of history. Sometimes he leaves an arm dangling awkwardly out the rear.
Some of the critical chatter about the film, such as that by Village Voice media critic Karina Longworth, has fallen on its allegiance toward Tea Party politics – the faraway king carelessly taxing the peasants into the dirt in order to pay for licentiousness and foreign adventures. There’s a favorite conservative joke – “Robin Hood didn’t steal from the rich to give to the poor. He stole from the government to give to the taxpayers.” The script seems aware of the saying.
As Robin Hood, Russell Crowe returns close to form. Opposite a wily Cate Blanchett, he shows that quiet muscularity that American stars no longer seem able to produce. At the head of a cavalry charge, mysteriously missing his helmet, grumbling attractively to his men about the virtues of liberty, Crowe successfully cools Scott’s radioactive Braveheart envy.
If there’s one thing I’m a sucker for at the movies, it’s medieval warfare. The way teen-agers today feel about watching a giant robot transform into a Plymouth? I feel that way about ancient technology – battering rams, fiery flocks of arrows, dumping flaming tar over the castle walls. When soldiers raise their shields skyward in a turtle formation, I nearly cry.
So that makes me a complete sucker for Robin Hood – a dark pastel of muddy battlefields, grungy blue forests, and a wildly vivid display of big budget filmmaking. The battle scenes are brawny and frantic, alive with perfect sound. If you love movies, there’s simply no way to watch the creation of such a brilliant fictional space and walk out of the theater unsatisfied.
A film of enormous visionary scope, in which even fireside singalongs take 74 cameras to shoot, with perfect props, convincing sets, and super-imaginative detail, Robin Hood is all the positive things associated with Ridley Scott with only a fair scattering of the negatives. Robin Hood might be the Ridliest Scottiest of all Ridley Scott movies.