Saturday, May 15, 2010

Film Review | Robin Hood (2010)

Robin N the Hood

by Thomas Delapa

Pray tell, I don’t know why Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe thought the world needed another reel Robin Hood, but methinks the director and star figured they could alchemically translate the Oscar-winning gold of Gladiator to not-so-merry medieval England. But if you pay more than a farthing for this bust, it’s highway robbery.

The rip-off begins with Crowe, a native New Zealander playing one of Britain’s greatest legends—and in an impish, Irish-flavored accent. It’s hard to tell who or what Crowe consulted for the role, but it surely wasn’t the kingly Columbia Encyclopedia, which describes the heroic 12th-century wealth redistributionist as “Manly, chivalrous, fair, and always ready for a joke.” Crowe may be manly, but he’s more surly than chivalrous, and it’s fair to say that he’s as funny as a medieval tax collector. This is one dull blade.

Audiences expecting a tongue-in-cheek romp or a rousing adventure will also feel cheated. Scott bends over backwards to fashion a handsome and grimly realistic historical saga adorned in pageantry and pretense, knitted together with a classical, choral-intoned score. Screenwriter Brian Helgeland pours in enough back story—starting with Richard the Lionhearted’s battles in France—to fill the English Channel. But this isn’t Shakespeare, mate. Didn’t anyone tell the great Scott that Robin Hood was a mythical figure? Even Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack got that when they made Robin and the Seven Hoods.

You won’t find Sammy Davis Jr. or any other cool cats in the supporting cast, but you will get a band of no-names among such errant stars as Cate Blanchett. Crowe has more chemistry with his horse than he does with the gaunt Blanchett, whose days playing young maids (Marion or otherwise) are behind her.

While Robin Hood is robbed of a compelling romantic angle, its villains are as cheap as they come. With the inglorious death of Richard (Danny Huston) in France, John (Oscar Isaac) slinks to the throne, tossing juvenile tantrums when he isn’t issuing royal edicts to increase taxes on his fed-up subjects. Behind the scenes lurks a weasely, scar-faced traitor (Mark Strong) who’s plotting with the hated French to invade England. Treated like a cast-off, the Sheriff of Nottingham (Matthew Macfadyen) is not even introduced until the third act. A shabby lot, Robin Hood’s band of merry men are only merry when they’re cavorting with lusty wenches.

While this Robin Hood plunders its legendary hero (badly), it also panders to today’s anti-tax crusades brewing throughout the realms on the both sides of the pond. John’s tyrannical demands for more money to “pay for foreign adventures” are met by subjects as mad as hell and not willing to take it anymore. Yet at the same time Scott and company pay lip service to democracy and equality, they barely mutter the tale’s original populist themes of taking from the rich and giving to the poor. They slickly parry the tricky double-edged sword: Nay, this Robin Hood is a crusading libertarian, not a thieving socialist.


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