Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: Movie Review: Robin Hood (2010)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Movie Review: Robin Hood (2010)

by Tony Dayoub


Ridley Scott's Robin Hood opens the Cannes Film Festival today (out of competition, of course). I must admit I went into its screening skeptical that I would find anything to enjoy in yet another visit to Nottingham. My favorite film critic, the estimable Glenn Kenny, often generous with praise for at least some aspect of most movies found little to like in this one (read his review here... I'll wait). That, director Scott and actor Russell Crowe's increasingly poor track record, and the fact the film gives in to the annoying trend to "reboot" a heroic tale à la Casino Royale(2006) and Batman Begins (2005) fed my doubt there would be anything redeemable left to appreciate.


Kenny is correct in assessing Robin Hood's weaknesses. Scott has always been derivative in even his most unassailable works: think of The Duellists' visual resemblance to Kubrick's Barry Lyndon (1975); Kubrick's touch is also evident in Alien (1979); Blade Runner's version of Los Angeles surely owes a debt to Metropolis (1927); and Black Hawk Down (2001) with its undercranked, dirt encrusted battle scenes recalls Saving Private Ryan (1998). But I guess this is the first time in memory one of Scott's films wears its quotes so brazenly on its sleeve. As Kenny points out in his review, the most blatant and upsetting riffs in the film are evident in the film's climactic battle scene where Scott somehow manages to evoke Private Ryan's D-Day setpiece (despite the two respective films' vastly different period settings) while still mashing it up with the far more contemporaneous El Cid's beachfront engagement. Kenny is being far too kind in avoiding Braveheart (1995) and The Lord of the Rings trilogy as other glaring influences on this epic pastiche.

The lift I'd single out as central to Scott's Robin Hood, escapes any mention in Kenny's review, though. But it's the one I found the most satisfaction in and key to making the film the pleasurable experience it turned out to be. The story that unwinds in Le retour de Martin Guerre (1982) is more popularly known here in the form of its inferior remake, Sommersby (1993). Based on a true story, it follows the reassimilation of a man into his village and marriage after returning from war. Eventually the question arises whether this man—who was away for many, many years—is really Guerre. Robin Hood may often dwell too much on overexplanation of the legendary hero's origins (this kind of thing does grow rather tedious; who cares how his band of brigands came to be nicknamed "The Merry Men," and that sort of thing?) But the method in which Robin Longstride comes to develop a bond much deeper than simple romance with the Lady Marion (Cate Blanchett) is the most engaging part of the film. If it happens to also describe how he takes on the identity of Marion's late husband, Sir Robert Loxley (a name often associated with Robin in folklore), then so be it.


The allure of the beefy Crowe's devotion to the tough but bewitching Blanchett, and her reciprocal admiration of him as the legendary archer, is the most delightful subplot in the film. This storyline is elevated, as Kenny alludes to in his post, by the presence of Max von Sydow as the real Robert's father, Sir Walter. Von Sydow may very well have played the most famous Crusader in cinema, The Seventh Seal's Antonius... no coincidence there, as Scott is in full cribbing mode. But he also provides the most innovative plot point in a movie bereft of them; it is his idea to bestow his son's identity on Robin to stave off any economic impact on Marion should Walter die; Marion could lose her lands if it's also discovered she is widowed. The feudal era acknowledgement of a woman's inequality to men is enhanced by Blanchett's performance as a fully capable equal to Robin both on the battlefield and off.

Alas it is the unevenness of the battlefield sequences which disrupt the film and the otherwise grand scale of John Mathieson's cinematography. Robin Hood works best when the camera sits back allowing one to relish the kind of epic one rarely sees anymore, with hundreds of actual horses galloping against a cast of soldiers equally as large. But when the frame is tight, and Scott repeats the same dirt-kicking-up aesthetic he's been coasting on since Gladiator (2000), the movie could lose you.

Ultimately, I quite enjoyed Robin Hood despite my initial reservations. In spite of some rather obvious derivations which almost sink the film, Robin Hood is warmly ingratiating, mostly a result of the charming romantic chemistry between its two leads.

9 comments:

bill r. said...

Hm. Well, it looks dull as dishwater to me, but you've intrigued me. I'm just so annoyed with both Scott and Crowe for talking shit about the original script's premise for a film told from the Sheriff of Nottingham's perspective, and how this wouldn't work because it played like a medieval police procedural. Well, that sounds awesome to me, and it's an original take on the story.

The idea that this reboot, or prequel, or whatever the heck they're calling this, is somehow more innovative than the writer's original idea strikes me as very smug, and lacking in imagination.

But! You say it's good, so maybe I'll agree. I'd like to. I've just been put off by smoothing down of everything I thought the film was going to be.

Tony Dayoub said...

I try to divorce all the promotional bullshit (or ignore it altogether when it came to this film) from a movie before I see it. I think it often colors my opinions. There so many political and economic reasons such things come up, it can often mar a good film or even magnify a minor film into something more. How else would I be able to enjoy any films by Spike Lee?

Well, lest you kick down my door demanding your money back, the overall point is you can't always trust even your favorite critic to have the same likes as you do, so don't put too much stock in what I'm saying (not that I think you're the type to do that anyway). I was engaged by the film's charm, but with too strong a reservation to recommend it as anything more than an enjoyable trifle.

Ibetolis said...

Must say I'm not a fan of the Crowe/Scott formation and until recently I was all set to give this a miss at the cinema. However, as well as your own review, the word of mouth seems rather positive and I guess now that I'll give it a go.

Bill, I'm with you on that original script, that would have been brilliant and certainly innovative. It's that same smugness that seems to permeates throughout their callobrations and to be honest it's rather nauseating.

Still, I'm going to err on the side of caution but give it a go. Cheers Tony.

Scorpius Maximus Indicus said...

Somehow i always preferred the Fun Version of Robin Hood. I did not really like Costner's Prince of Thieves for the same reason, just took itself too seriously, and while the performances from Costner, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Alan Rickman were good, the movie was way too plodding.

Ridley Scott can do a fun movie well enough, he has shown that with Matchstick Men, but his recent output has been disappointing.

Regarding Scott's derivative works, even Gladiator was referential in some ways to Kubrick's Spartacus. The movie actually started off well, but later on, just became an extended gore fest.

***Ratnakar

Jason Bellamy said...

Tony: Well, we absolutely agree about this part ...

Robin Hood works best when the camera sits back allowing one to relish the kind of epic one rarely sees anymore, with hundreds of actual horses galloping against a cast of soldiers equally as large.

And even though we've debated some things over at my blog, mostly about how Robin Hood compares to Gladiator, I'm not sure we're all that far off in our overall opinions of this film, though you certainly found more genuine enjoyment than I did.

As for this part ...

The feudal era acknowledgement of a woman's inequality to men is enhanced by Blanchett's performance as a fully capable equal to Robin both on the battlefield and off.

I feel strange saying this, but the need to turn Marion into Robin's equal kind of offended me, particularly the battlefield moment toward the end. I mean, it's great to look back on history and expose the wrongheadedness of female inferiority. Then again, you'd figure the film could have demonstrated that in ways that would feel more historically authentic, as in the scene at the start of the film in which, with her husband off at war, Marion is left to try to defend the barn from raiders. (Then again: How equal is she proven to be there? Think Robin would have let those kids get away with it? But I digress.) Instead, the movie seems to want to toss a softball to the audience and make Marion an action hero, which is noble, in a sense, but kind of offensively silly at the same time. I am frustrated by the lack of modern- or future-set films without strong female characters, but I'm aware that, historically speaking, women haven't been given much training in warfare or an equal share of about anything. Where was I?

Anyway, that above rant doesn't do much to affect the film, but for me it was another way in which it felt generic, which was my biggest complaint with the film overall.

Again, always good trading thoughts with you.

Tony Dayoub said...

We're not far off on this one at all, Jason. I was only a shade less disappointed than you. The only difference is I found the ROBIN HOOD's rare high points somewhere different than you did.

Though it didn't bother me in this film, it is an annoying result that revisionism is only capable of giving us anachronistic women in the hands of the wrong writers. I find there are enough shades of gray to provide interesting characters without going the easy route. Perhaps the only flaw I found in ROBIN HOOD's approach to Marian was to include her in the final battle. She still seems like a formidable woman without throwing her into the scrap with all the boys.

Jason Bellamy said...

She still seems like a formidable woman without throwing her into the scrap with all the boys.

Agreed!

Jake Riley said...

I am still skeptical about this, but it looks like I should give it a try. I am a huge fan of Scott, I just don't want to leave disappointed ...

Tony Dayoub said...

Jake, I reiterate my response to Bill above:

Well, lest you kick down my door demanding your money back, the overall point is you can't always trust even your favorite critic to have the same likes as you do, so don't put too much stock in what I'm saying (not that I think you're the type to do that anyway). I was engaged by the film's charm, but with too strong a reservation to recommend it as anything more than an enjoyable trifle.

Thanks for stopping by.