Thursday, May 20, 2010



By: The Mad Hatter

For the second time in a week, I bought a ticket for a film with chatter of bad buzz ringing in my ear. At least this time, it wasn't an entire week's worth of bad buzz. At least this time around, the chatter wasn't based on comparing a sequel to its original. And with ROBIN HOOD, I think that the negative chatter is not so much due to the movie being bad as people not getting the story they expected to get.

The story begins in the late 12th Century. Richard the Lionheart is in the final throes of his crusades when he gets killed in battle. As the battle continues to rage, four infantrymen break free from the stockade and head for home. The group is led by an archer named Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe). As they try to flee for home, they come across the king's guard getting ambushed by the traitorous knight, Sir Godfrey (Mark Strong).

Thinking quick, Robin and his men disguise themselves as the fallen knights, knowing it will ease their passage home. Amongst the guard is Robert Loxley who with his dying breath, begs Robin to take news of his demise to his father in Nottingham. He likewise entrusts Robin with his sword, asking he return it to its rightful place in his father's hand.

Successfully passing as knights, the men return to England and hand over the crown of the fallen king to the queen mother. The crown is swiftly passed to Prince John, the next in line, who very quickly shows his hand at being strict where it comes to his subjects paying their due taxes. He likewise appoints Sir Godfrey to go about collecting what he's due, unwittingly empowering Godfrey to hasten a French invasion.

Robin, meanwhile, is off to Nottingham where he meets Lord Loxley (Max Von Sydow) and his daughter-in-law Marion (Cate Blanchett). Upon learning of Loxley's death, they both convince Longstride to take his place in order to avoid having their property taken by the crown. Longstride agrees, and somehow, an entire town accepts him as Loxley even though they look nothing alike.

Sheriff of Nottingham? Peripheral character. Outlaw? Not so much.

Astounding feats of Archery? Once in a while. Mis-marketed film? You betcha.

The production of ROBIN HOOD was plagued with indecision, and that indecision has led to much dissatisfaction with the film. What we have here is an origin story, but you'd never know that from the bold title nor from any of the high energy marketing. At one point in the film I thought to myself, "Geez, it feels like we've been setting up Robin's back story for a while." Then I looked at my watch and realized the film had forty minutes left to wrap things up.

Had this film been billed as ROBIN HOOD: SECRET ORIGIN, reaction to it might have been a bit more favorable. As it stands, it contradicts every legend of Nottingham ever told. From Errol Flynn to animated foxes, no movie has ever put the man in tights into this particular narrative. That said, this isn't a bad movie; it just isn't what audiences are expecting.

Russell Crowe does a serviceable job even if he doesn't have much chance to rob from the rich and give to the poor. His accent is indeed slightly muddled, but I'll give him points for attempting one. In some ways, he is playing “Maximus-with-a-Bow,” but he doesn't hold the film back and is as good as he needs to be. Nobody in the cast is really given much to work with, but of everybody, Mark Strong seems to most understand what he's there to do.

Strong is the dastardly villain in this story, and it’s a role he's perfected well in the last eighteen months. After him, Oscar Isaac has his moments but doesn't have a clear enough part to dig in to. He's slimy, weaselly, and cowardly but never needs to be one of these traits for any longer than two minutes at a time.

Since ROBIN HOOD is Ridley Scott's film, I tried to consider where it would fit within his spectrum of films, and sadly it isn't as good as GLADIATOR or KINGDOM OF HEAVEN (the latter was hardly a hit with audiences or critics). For me much of the reason comes down to never tapping into the determination of either of those films. Both of them were stories centered on one man trying to rise to a challenge. ROBIN HOOD spends so much time with Longstride trying to take Loxley's place in many ways that by the time occasion comes for him to rise, we've stopped caring.

I enjoyed what I saw in ROBIN HOOD—bad marketing, and strange story be damned—but I don't know who else will. Those looking for Russell Crowe to kick ass and take names would be better served renting GLADIATOR. Those looking for the legend of an archer and his band of merry men would be better served renting Errol Flynn's 1938 classic. If you're looking for a decent tale of medieval life and a notion of where the whole legend begins, give this movie a look.

Read More from the Mad Hatter here

Contact M-Rex Here