Saturday, May 15, 2010

Don't quiver, but 'Robin Hood' at least hits target's edge

By Steve Crum
Robin Hood, directed by Ridley Scott (Gladiator), should be titled Robin Hood: The Prequel. Indeed, this Robin Hood is unlike most of the previous 20 or so movie and TV Robins I have seen over a lifetime in that it is the backstory, covering the history of Robin before he was a Hood. Of course, there is that Sean Connery sequel, Robin and Marian, chronicling Robin’s later years; Disney’s animated, foxy Robin; and Mel Brooks’ spoof, Robin Hood, Men in Tights, which pretty much arrow-headed the Robin Hood myth.
Metaphorically, Scott’s Robin Hood misses the bulls-eye, but at least hits the edge of the target.
Russell Crowe brings low key, solid reserve to the lead role, but is far from Errol Flynn charismatic. Then again, screenwriter Brian Helgeland has purposely fashioned this take on the mythological hero as more of any everyman who rises to the occasion of leading his not so merry men against tyranny in 13th Century England. Opening toward the end of the already decade-long Crusades, King Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston) heads the charge against a fortified castle, against arrows, spears and scalding oil pouring from the turrets. A couple of events occur that involve both Robin aka Robin Longstride and King Richard. Without adding a spoil, let’s just say both occurrences adversely affect the legendary story told in previous films. The King Richard turn of events, particularly, really floored me.
Soon Robin is mustered out of service (for reasons not divulged here), along with a handful of pals who have names like Little John (Kevin Durand) and Will Scarlet (Scott Grimes), monikers familiar to Robin Hood fans of old. It must be added that Robin and his friends are shown to be fearless and aggressive in battle, so the heroic angle is established early on.
Holding to a dying man’s promise, Robin detours to the hamlet of Nottingham to relay a message to his family. There he meets (Maid) Marion Loxley (Cate Blanchett) and her father-in-law, the sightless Sir Walter Loxley (Max von Sydow). It turns out the dying man was Sir Robert Loxley (Douglas Hodge), Marion’s husband. The story line detours from tradition yet again. The Loxleys are in danger of losing their land to the tyranny of the Sheriff of Nottingham (Matthew Macfadyen) who is only following orders from the despicable King John (Oscar Isaac), Richard the Lionheart’s younger brother. Marion talks Robin into posing as her late husband to prevent automatic seizure of their property. Is it surprising a love story subplot develops?
The remainder of the film, which runs 2 hrs., 20 mins., but seems longer, is filled with government (both French and English) deceit, bloody battles, bows and arrows, and a lot of foot run rushes and horseback rides. And yelling, particularly during the battle scenes. Those yelling inclusions, though necessary and totally expected, were either hampered by the inherent audio soundtrack or the sound system where this film was screened. Because the audio was turned up so loudly, 75% of the dialogue during the action sequences was incoherent. It doesn’t help either that Marc Streitenfeld’s forgettable music is full of flourishes and sweeps made deafening due to the sound system’s maxed out decibels. Aye, these are not positive enjoyment factors, Robin. Or I should say Ridley.
The pluses of Robin Hood are the landscape, castle, ships and battle scenes. Let me qualify that the long shots of battles are superb. However, the close-ups of hand-to-hand, sword-to-sword combat are of the hand-held, shaky, barf inducing-due-to-dizziness type. This way the filmmaker does not have to overly choreograph a fight, it is merely CGI enhanced with jerks and pans that imply fighting. Even an action video game triggers less headache than this.
While Crowe’s bow and arrow expertise is obvious (the word is he spent endless hours practicing to perfection), his horseback riding is painful to view, probably because it is. He rides with grimace, bent over, and stiff, ill at ease in the saddle. (Why couldn’t this have been CGI enhanced?)
All actors are fine in their respective roles, including Crowe. Particularly effective is William Hurt’s William Marshal, a politician who changes loyalties as the story progresses. The story leads up to the time Robin and his men, including Will, Little John, Allan A’Dayle (Alan Doyle) and Friar Tuck (Mark Addy) are just beginning their well known encampment in Sherwood Forest.
While I applaud Ridley Scott for attempting to add to the legend of Robin Hood, it is doubtful this pre-story will be included in any future Robin Hood films. Please think Errol Flynn and the established legend only next time.
GRADE on an A to F Scale: C-
Eyes front, hold your bow steady, and watch the Robin Hood trailer:

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