Not-so Merry Men
(Robin Hood, Ridley Scott, USA/UK, 131 minutes)
On paper Ridley Scott’s decision to make his own spin on the traditional story of Robin Hood, with Russell Crowe as the leading man, seemed like a match made in Heaven. This was, after all, Gladiator’s director and its star reunited on the historical battlefield, the perfect setting for both to shine once more after a few years in which neither has enjoyed the degree of critical or commercial success that we have come to expect from them. The story of Robin Hood is perfect fodder for the two, given Scott’s talent for creating thrilling battle sequences, and Crowe’s penchant for playing inspirational heroes, and while the film certainly delivers in these respects there seems to be something missing.
The film focuses on the formulation of the Robin Hood character. In an attempt to lend his story a sense of historical realism Scott has given his hero the name Robin Longstride, and made him a soldier on the crusades of Richard the Lionheart. After coming across an ambush of the Royal Guard by French sympathiser Sir Godfrey (Mark Strong on typically good form as the film’s central villain) Robin and a few of his fellow soldiers disguise themselves as Knights in order to gain safe passage home. On returning to England Robin decides to travel to Nottingham to return the sword of the man who’s identity he has assumed to his father, and learns more about his own heritage, before leading King John’s army in a battle against the invading French.
The opening of the film is very impressive, Scott throws the viewer in at the deep end in terms of action, and the film begins as a rapid pace, firstly with horses being stolen from Lady Marion’s stables by a band of rebellious children in Nottingham, before moving to the battlefields of France, where Richard’s army is storming a castle in order to gain the means to get home, the King having bankrupt himself on his fruitless crusade. These opening moments provide some of the film’s best action, and it is in the action sequences that Crowe’s Robin Hood is in his element, leading his men in word as well as action, he plays the part of the fearless warrior to perfection. However after the smoke has settled on the frantic opening scenes and we witness Robin settle down in Nottingham the film begins to feel somewhat tiresome, and it is in the mid-section of the film that it becomes apparent what is missing from Scott’s take on the Robin Hood Story. There is a lack of charm and romance in this version of the tale. The attempts at humour seem forced, and Russell Crowe is clearly comfortable when playing the heroic warrior side of Robin Hood’s character, but is less capable of displaying his sensitive side when alone with Cate Blanchett’s Marion, or his playful, witty side when in the company of his friends. In an effort to push the gritty realism of his film, Scott has clearly decided to sideline these elements of the Robin Hood character, but seems to forget that it is these elements that most attract some people to the character. The question also remains as to why Scott would be so determined to make his film seem like a realistic depiction of the man behind the myth when he is dealing with a character from folklore. Is there really any need to alter our image of what is essentially a fictional character? I would suggest not.
Other elements of the character may have begun to show through in time, but Scott does not afford this portion of the film much time at all. The chemistry between Crowe and Blanchett is decent, but it is difficult to become all that emotionally involved in their relationship when we have only seen them on screen together three or four times. Rather than affording more time to the romantic element of the film, Scott seems eager to race towards the film’s climactic battle scene, the invasion by the French. This final battle is breathtakingly shot and performed, and provides, at least stylistically, the perfecect climax to the film. However Scott clearly does not want to offend American or even English audiences by suggesting that the French may be in any way useful in a fight, and so the scene lacks any real sense of threat, as Robin and the rest of John’s army slaughter the invading French with relative ease before their King orders his army to retreat. ‘Typical Frenchman’ seems to be the message.
While these drawbacks must be taken into consideration Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood is still a very entertaining film. Russell Crowe may lack some of the schoolboy charm of a Kevin Costner or a…cartoon fox, but there is enough here to suggest that what the film lacks in terms of character development can be rectified in the inevitable sequel.