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Robin Hood movie review

For two-thirds, Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood weaves a new take on the fable, but as the movie winds down, it struggles for identity and seems to reach for tags that justify the name of the movie.

Take away the name, and it would have been a decent story, but mired in the myth of Robin Hood, the movie gives just enough to link to the legend and then tries desperately to sell it at the end when King John proclaims Robin an outlaw and the character takes up residence in the ‘greenwood’ – aka Sherwood Forest.

To understand the shortcomings of the end, it’s important to know a bit about the plot. Robin Longstride, a Saxon Yeoman (archer) in King Richard’s service, is a conscience-driven man, honest to a fault that seems willing to bend the letter of the law when it serves the movie’s plot. Having been honest at the behest of Richard, Robin finds himself in stocks on the edge of Richard’s failed attempt to take a French castle (part of Richard’s crusade homeward to replenish the wealth of the English throne). Richard is slain and Robin, along with a few men, escapes the stocks and starts the trek toward the north coast of France where they hope to get a ship back to England.

The real Sir Robert Loxley is taking the crown of the slain Richard back to England when he is ambushed by an English traitor (Godfrey, played in stereotypical bad guy fashion by Mark Strong – most recently the bad guy Lord Blackwood in 2009’s Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr.) and slain. Robin and his fellow yeomen drive off the French ambushers, and as Loxley dies, he implores Robin to return his father’s sword to the keep in Nottingham. Robin agrees, then proceeds to steal the knightly garb of the dead English party to board a waiting ship for the return to England. He turns over the crown to the Queen Mother (Eleanor of Aquitaine), who places it on the head of Richard’s younger brother, John.

Robin takes the sword to Nottingham, meets with Sir Walter Loxley and is convinced to maintain the ruse that he is Sir Robert Loxley. It is in that guise that Robin convinces King John to grant equality to all Englishman (which, in reality, was the Magna Carta that the real John signed in 1215 A.D.) and leads the charge against the invading French forces of King Phillip. Oh, and Sir Robert Loxley was married and his wife – of one week prior to heading off with Richard on the Crusades – is none other than Lady Marion Loxley.

Got all that? Good.

As predictable as other elements of the movie, the ending is big battle where the English repel the French. This is when Scott’s movie flounders and seemingly borrows from other, better films. Is it to be Eowyn riding with the Riders of Rohan onto the field of battle in a cavalry charge as in Lord of the Rings? Or maybe it’s the 12th-century version of the landing on Omaha beach in Saving Private Ryan, but with the artillery consisting of arrows from the English cliffs. Certainly some of the shots emulate the same angles with bodies and blood in the water. And then the manner in which John renounces his vow to grant equality while declaring Robin (whom he takes pains to call “Robin of the Hood”) an outlaw is over the top, forced and seems a desperate attempt to tie the movie more into the legend.

Russell Crowe plays the title role and seems to drift through the movie with a stoicism and nobility that belies the station the Saxon archer had. He slips far too comfortably into the role of a Norman noble all the while sporting the same neutral expression. Crowe is capable of more, as he demonstrated in the role of Ben Wade in 3:10 to Yuma or as James Braddock in Cinderella Man. Even his Maximus in Gladiator had more emotional depth than Robin has. As it stands in this film, Crowe fails to connect with the audience, leaving room for other actors to step up and shine.

And that is precisely what Cate Blanchett does. Blanchett’s Marion carries the heart of the film and delivers the emotional tone at key moments with a look in her eyes, or the turn of her lips. While Max Von Sydow turns in a solid performance as Sir Walter Loxley, Blanchett turns in the best acting performance of the film.

As for the others in the cast, William Hurt’s William Marshall (advisor to John) feels somewhat bland, and Oscar Isaac’s King John is a classic case of going too far over the top and creating a character that is so ridiculous as to be an irritant and distraction. The film also has some issues with choppy editing, particularly noticeable when Marion is helping Robin out of chainmail in one scene. Continuity is lost when the outer cloth layer mysteriously disappears as Robin turns to have Marion remove the coif.

As a film, Robin Hood does not fly as true as the fabled archer’s arrows. The film had potential, but much like the French invasion, it was repelled by lack of direction and predictability at the end. Keep expectations lower; don't go into this with preconceptions about the other fables of the titular character and you might enjoy this film.

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Michael Lafferty
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