Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett
Runtime: 140 mins
Rating: * *
The tale of Robin Hood. To some, a heroic symbol of medieval egalitarianism, socialism incarnate, wielding a bow and arrow; to others, simply a ripping yarn of fantasy and high adventure, necessarily associated with sacks of gold, impossibly villainous baddies and swooning damsels in distress. The problem with Ridley Scott’s film, in an effort to provide his own distinctive retelling, is the rebuttal of both of these conventions.
Conforming to what seems to have become a popular Hollywood trend, Ridley Scott provides a sort of Robin Hood prequel: a bizarre and revisionist tapestry of legend and history for a tedious, lengthy setting-of-the-scene. As Richard the Lionheart and his right-hand man Loxley are slain in France, common archer Robin Longstride takes it upon himself to return the crown to England and Loxley’s sword to Nottingham. Upon arriving there, Longstride decides to pose as Robert Loxley and is shocked to find England ravaged by lofty taxes and a tyrannical monarchy.
The story quickly slides into an increasingly convoluted mess – befuddling more than intriguing, peppered with various plot holes and confounding narratives concerning France’s plan to spark civil war in England, and an implausible subplot involving Robin Hood’s cooption into a noble family. The film is forcibly crammed with trickery, plot twists and historical overlaps that fail to fit together, reflecting the script’s numerous rewrites.
Much has been made of Russell Crowe’s muddled accent that swings sporadically between Irish, Scottish and deep, inaudible mumbles. His memorable, rough and scowling performance in Gladiator is traded in for a more light-hearted sparkle, but essentially comes off as flat. We simply don’t care that much about him, and for a prequel that aims to unveil Robin Hood’s beginnings and his raison d’être (ignoring the fact that such an endeavour in itself strips away the mysticism surrounding the legend), Robin Hood falls short.
Once plot intricacies take a back seat to swordfights and grand battles, the film takes off. Scott has an unrivalled eye for historic battle scenes. The inventive combat choreography manages to avoid monotony: a final skirmish on the beach sees a dazzling display of swordsman shimmying between boat bows and lapping sea water. The set, locations and costumes show a remarkable attention to detail; but from the man who provided Gladiator’s coherent story and engaging characters, this fails to be the ultimate Robin Hood.
It essentially feels like an excuse for a war film masquerading in the classic hero’s disguise. The premise titillatingly promises bravado and medieval mischief, but never delivers. Instead, we’re provided with a rather plain portrayal of the legend as a soldier fighting for, not against, the establishment. As a prelude to the infinitely more entertaining business of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, the film serves its purpose well enough, but during the 140 minutes we’re given little to hold our attention besides the infinitely difficult task of making sense of the bewildered plot. The film is, in short, incredibly frustrating.