Arrows point to a classic “Robin Hood”
Depending on your age and taste in movies, Robin Hood is either a swashbuckling do-gooder (Errol Flynn, Douglas Fairbanks circa the 1920s and 30s), an aging nobleman (Sean Connery 1976), an accent-challenged nice guy (Kevin Costner 1993), a leotard-wearing prankster (Cary Elwes 1993), or even a Disney animated fox (voiced by Brian Bedford in 1973).
But director Ridley Scott and writer Brian Helgeland want you to forget most of your preconceived notions about the so-called Prince of Thieves. Their gritty and glum film is essentially a prequel to the popular legend, and it mixes fact and fiction to create a flawed but fascinating backstory of the 13th century outlaw.
If you go in looking for soaring action and elaborate swordplay you may be disappointed by “Robin Hood’s” heavy exposition and continuous plot development. In this era of formulaic video-game filmmaking, Scott’s approach is refreshing and steeped in his unparalleled attention to detail and rich characterization. Indeed, “Hood” shares similarities with some of Scott’s best work including “Gladiator,” “Black Hawk Down,’ and the under-appreciated “Kingdom of Heaven.”
Russell Crowe’s Robin Longstride is earthy, noble and not without a sense of humor (as some reviews have suggested). He escapes King Richard’s punishment during the Crusades and with his merry-but-never-silly band stumbles across a mortally wounded Sir Robert Loxley (Douglas Hodge) who was ambushed while on his way to deliver the now dead King’s crown to London.
Robin seizes the opportunity to impersonate Loxley and also deliver a sword to the nobleman’s aging father Walter (a frail and brilliantly touching Max Von Sydow). Loxley’s real widow, Marion (Cate Blanchett in full dour damsel mode) isn’t too keen on the idea of this grubby archer sleeping in her home, but this gives Robin an opportunity to prove his worth.
Some muddled scenes about Robin’s childhood could have been replaced by lusty interludes with Marion, but alas, the film is determined to stick to its sense of solemnity. And if the storytelling feels choppy, at least it becomes clear by the final battle scene-a majestic seaside skirmish between the rallied British villagers and the arriving French navy.
Scott has cobbled together a complex and riveting story with characters that feel real, not like cardboard stereotypes from previous adaptations. His effort is aided by excellent actors, including William Hurt, Oscar Isaac, and Danny Huston who provide “Robin Hood” a measure of stature and nobility heretofore unattained.
This is not your Father’s Nottingham and that’s a good thing.
Rated PG-13 for violence and intense scenes of warfare and some sexual content.