Thursday, May 27, 2010

Unlike Other Robin Hoods, I Can Speak With An English Accent. ROBIN HOOD - Reviewed!

Man, talk about writing fatigue. I went all-out to write up fitting final reviews of both LOST and 24, and after those epic entries, I definitely needed at least a short break from the blog. At the same time, I've got a lot more to talk about, so ... let's go.


- Robin Hood is not a horrible movie. In fact, it's a pretty good film. So I was surprised at all of the venom hurled at it by critics who each seemed to have their own vision of what a Robin Hood movie should be. I do agree that there is sometimes a generic feeling with this one. What was originally supposed to be a new twist on the old story, casting the Sherrif of Nottingham as the hero and Robin Hood as the villain, instead is a much more straightforward take on the classic Robin Hood tale. Not only that, but it's basically the "Batman Begins" version of Robin Hood - a dark, gritty, spawling origin story that ends in the place where most Robin Hood stories begin. Really, the movie is pretty much exactly what you'd expect when you hear "Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe do Robin Hood." What does that mean in terms of quality? Well, look, this isn't the best thing since sliced bread, but at the same time, it's Ridley Scott doing a badass historical action movie. You know there's going to be a certain level of quality there. You know you're going to get some great acting from Crowe and company. You know you'll get a kickass battle or two. To me, Robin Hood was an entertaining flick. It had some issues, sure, but overall, I say the critics were too harsh. Robin Hood is worth checking out if you're a fan of Ridley Scott, Russell Crowe, or if you just want to see a big historical epic with bows and arrows and swords.

Robin Hood essentially tells the story of the circumstances that led to Robin becoming an outlaw and a populous hero following the Crusades. In this movie, "Robin Hood" does not quite exist yet - instead, Russell Crowe plays Robin Longstride - a soldier in the Crusades who assumes a dead man's identity, and eventually his life. Robin Longstride becomes Robin of Loxley, and what begins as a con on the part of Robin eventually sees him embrace his new identity as his own. He becomes a hero to a people who are being mercilessly taxed by the in-over-his-head Prince John, and bullied by John's ruthless lieutenant Godfrey. Robin is there to lead the uprising against the throne, and in doing so seeks to win the trust of the family his new identity has led him to - Sir Walter Loxley, a fallen noble, and Marion Loxley, his daughter-in-law.

Look, I am a sucker for melodramatic, gravitas-infused period-piece dialogue spoken by great / badass actors (and really, who isn't?) and Robin Hood has a lot of it. Russell Crowe on some level isn't really who you imagine as Robin Hood - he's too old, too big, etc. But on another level, Crowe has that rebellious, rock n' roll edge to him that makes him suited towards playing an anti-authority troublemaker. In this version of the story in particular, Robin is not just a mischevious archer, but a leader and a soldier. So Crowe does in fact work well in the role, and he does his usual bang-up job. Crowe is one of the best leading-man actors around, and he's as intense as ever in this one. That said, there isn't a ton of meat to the Robin character - he's more Russell Crowe than anything - gruff and softspoken until it's time to turn up the volume and kick ass. Not a huge dramatic stretch for Crowe, but hey, mostly, it works.

Meanwhile, there's a superb supporting cast around him. Mark Strong is excellent as Godfrey - all glowering and evil-like. Oscar Isaac is a scene-stealer as Prince John - it's sort of a similar role to that of Joquin Phoenix in Gladiator, but hey, Isaac screaches curses like the instant-classic "YOOUU AREE AN OUUUUTLAAWW!" with as much vim and vigor as you could possibly hope for. Danny Huston shows up as the regal King Richard, and there's also an entertaining turn from the great WILLIAM HURT as an ousted advisor to the slightly-psycho prince, who becomes the whistle-blower, alerting people to the corruption and treachery going on at the highest levels of the kingdom. Also, there's Robin's trusted allies, his posse who will eventually become his "merry men." Again, it's a really fun, talented group of actors. Kevin Durand is a standout as Little John. We know from LOST that he is adept at playing the part of badass, and he is similarly good here, and he has some really fun scenes with Crowe. Mark Addy also gets in some good moments as Friar Tuck.

Then, there's Cate Blanchett as Marion. Blanchett is arguably the best actress alive, especially when it comes to fantasy and period pieces. So she's right at home in this one. She has a great presence, and a pretty decent chemistry with Crowe. But, her character is also in a lot of the film's weaker scenes. Part of the problem is that with Crowe, Robin is written in such a way where it sort of feels like it was a part intended for someone younger, but Crowe makes it work anyways. With Marion though, the part clearly feels like it was meant for a much younger actress, and the disconnect is pretty jarring. The fact is, Marion is written as this tough-but-really-naive type, and that just doesn't jive with Blanchett's regal and wise persona.

As an aside, it really does pain me to actually complain about seasoned actors in a movie like this. SO MANY action films cast actors that are way too young and/or young-seeming in parts where the story calls for real MEN and real WOMEN. Personally, I think it's cool that Crowe and Blanchett were cast as opposed to some teen idol types with no actual acting ability or presence. BUT ... once Crowe and Blanchett were cast, the script should have been altered to better reflect the fact that the two leads were clearly both past 40. Too often, for example, their relationship feels very young romance-ish and not like a bond between two people who have likely been around the block a few times.

Overall, Robin Hood's script is problematic at times. There is clearly some really strong writing at its core, but you can sort of tell that the movie went through the studio machine one too many times. The result is a story that feels like it incorporates elements from a few different movies into one film, and that makes for an overly complex but ultimately jumbled narrative. The movie's opening really needs tightening up, as it takes forever to establish the large cast of characters and set up the many different plot threads. The problem is that Robin kind of stumbles into this whole adventure. That's fine at first, but in the middle of the movie the momentum has yet to really pick up, because there's not necessarilly any real heated rivalry between Robin and Prince John or Godfried. In any case, the movie ends up being overlong and overstuffed. Unfortunately, it's one more Ridley Scott movie where you get the sense there's some way more awesome Director's Cut filed away somewhere.

But hey, this IS Ridley Scott here. The man is one of *the* all-time great directors, and even though he's saddled with a hacked-up script, he still directs the hell out of this movie. He doesn't have a lot of opportunity to really go to town for the film's first half ... but when the action picks up later on, the movie really gets a shot in the arm thanks to some kickass action courtesy of Mr. Scott. As I said, the movie drags a lot in the beginning, and then at times in its middle section as well. But, the final acti is basically one continuous action scene that builds and builds, and it's a series of highly entertainign sequences - brilliantly staged and executed. Ridley just has a knack for pulling off those giant war / battle scenes on an epic scale, and also for making sure to include those killer dramatic moments in the heat of battle that give the characters a chance to shine. Robin Hood has some great little moments that are vintage Ridley Scott - the elder Loxley blind-swordfighting with his last strength to defend his home, and Robin firing off a climactic arrow shot towards the movies end are two examples. So, if you're on the fence about seeing this, my opinion is that the stunning action of the final act makes the movie worth checking out, no question. Ultimately, I think the movie ends on a high note. The great action and some satisfying closing story developments end the movie well, to the point where it leaves you surprisingly jazzed for a potential sequel, now that the pieces have all been moved into place.

But, the fact that a movie can start out so slowly but ultimately end so well is troubling in its own way. It means that the movie COULD have been truly great, if it had been created with a more singular vision, and not morphed from one movie to another to another over the course of its development cycle. As it stands, the movie has enough killer scenes - dramatic speeches, cool action, fun setup for a possible next chapter - that it's perfectly servicable as setup for a could-be-much-better sequel. Scott remains one of the most talented directors around too - I just really want him to make a couple more GREAT movies. This is, after all, the guy who gave us BLADE RUNNER, ALIEN, and GLADIATOR. Can someone please hook him up with one more legitimately great script so he can really cut loose? In that respect, Robin Hood is slightly frustrating, because it has some of the elements of a great film, but it's too disjointed and jumbled to really put them all together. But it's still a fun movie - an entertaining adventure that is much better than some might want to admit.

My Grade: B+

- Check back soon for more, everyone. Almost the weekend!

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