Saturday 25 September 2021

Movie Review: Robin Hood (2010)

A medieval drama and romance, Robin Hood creates an epic backstory for the legendary outlaw.

The year is 1199, and Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) is an archer in the army of Richard The Lionheart (Danny Huston), as England's King fights his way back home from the crusades. But Richard is felled by an arrow at a battle in France, and his weakling brother Prince John (Oscar Isaac) ascends to the throne. Robin impersonates the dead knight Sir Robert Loxley and along with a small group of men they make it back to England.

Meanwhile John is being undermined by his double-crossing friend Godfrey (Mark Strong), who is really working for France's King Philip to weaken England and enable an invasion. In Nottingham Robin meets and falls in love with Marion Loxley (Cate Blanchett), while her father, the elderly and blind Walter (Max von Sydow), helps Robin understand his lineage. 

John's extreme taxation policies and Godfrey's raids on fellow Englishmen push the country towards civil war and serve Philip's agenda. Robin teams up with Lionheart loyalist William Marshal (William Hurt) to try and avert disaster.

Running a luxurious 140 minutes with content to match, Robin Hood is an engrossing drama, mixing historical factoids with plenty of rambunctious fiction. Director Ridley Scott re-teams with his Gladiator star Russell Crowe, and although the results are not quite as spectacular, this is still a finely crafted tale of swords, bows, and arrows, rich with story lines, court intrigue, memorable characters and no shortage of large-scale bone-crunching battles.

The Brian Helgeland screenplay steers well clear of the frivolity, simplistic heroics and light-heartedness associated with previous cinematic Robin Hood versions. This is a mud-splattered and grim outing, levity limited to a couple of brief dialogue exchanges, the merry men pushed well into the background. In search of a wider audience Scott avoids blood and gore visuals, but this adventure would have benefited from more realistic representations of the era's brutality.

Crowe's dour Robin suits the England-in-crisis surroundings. Untethered from any clan, he is haunted by a lost father and too many battles on the way to and from Jerusalem. The supporting cast is brimming with talent, von Sydow, Isaac, Hurt and Strong joined by Matthew Macfadyen as the Sheriff of Nottingham (here a relatively minor character), Léa Seydoux as Isabella (Prince John's ambitious lover) and Eileen Atkins as Eleanor of Aquitaine (his concerned mother).

The narrative weakness resides in Robin's relatively limited influence on events around him. For the most part he is on the edge of the major plot points, first with Richard the Lionheart's army then back in England where John, Godfrey and Marshal are driving the agenda. Even in the quieter moments at the Loxley estate, Robin's surroundings and fate are defined by Walter's wisdom and Marion gradually learning to love him.

Robin's personality does emerge on a few occasions, speaking truth to power (and paying for it) when invited to do so by Lionheart, recognizing the opportunity to impersonate a knight as a ticket home, and then helping Marion's fledgling estate avert starvation by plotting his first steal-from-the-rich escapade. 

Now provided with a pre-banditry history of hostility and hurt, Robin Hood emerges as a more hardened legend.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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