In 13th century England, Robin and his band of marauders confront corruption in a local village and challenge the crown to alter the balance of power between the king and all of his subjects. And whether outlaw or hero, one man from humble beginnings will become an eternal symbol of freedom for his people. 

These men in tights fail to excite.

How long must we wait for a decent Robin Hood movie, one which captures the verve and playful spirit of director Michael Curtiz’ 1938 classic which starred Errol Flynn as the swashbuckling hero?

A while longer, since Ridley Scott’s big, noisy, sporadically violent and lavishly-budgeted Robin Hood is unlikely to satisfy those who crave a modern reinterpretation of the legendary 13th Century outlaw. It may, however, help to obliterate memories of the 1991 travesty Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, in which Kevin Costner sounded more like Wyatt Earp than an infamous resident of Nottingham.

As an origin story, the film scripted by Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential, Green Zone) relegates the Sheriff of Nottingham to a minor player, while Friar Tuck has a mead-guzzling cameo and Robin’s cohorts Little John, Will Scarlet and Allan A’Dayle are portrayed as little more than clowns.

Russell Crowe is suitably earnest, brave and modest in the title role, although his accent wanders all over England with perhaps a trace of Scotland, but the overall effect is rather less dramatic and engaging than a gladiator transplanted to Sherwood Forest.

While a large part of the budget (which Universal insists is $US155 million, while others say is closer to $200 million) was devoted to the epic climactic battle on the English Coast, there’s very little pathos, save for the death of one pivotal character late in the piece.

Cate Blanchett is fine as the feisty, strong-willed, no-nonsense Lady Marion. There’s some nice by-play between Cate and Crowe, despite the fact that their slow-to-develop romance lacks passion: it’s more like watching an alliance between two superstars than a genuine, sweaty relationship.

The story starts in France, where ace-archer Robin Longstride (Crowe) is fighting in the Crusades with the army of King Richard (Danny Huston). Ambushed by the French, the King is felled by an arrow and the dying knight Sir Robert Loxley (Douglas Hodge) begs Longstride to return his father’s sword to him.

Longstride takes Loxley’s identity and returns to London where he presents Richard’s crown to his anguished mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine (Eileen Atkins), who hands it to her son, the ruthless new King John (Oscar Isaac in a pale imitation of Gladiator's Joaquin Phoenix). Robin then sets off to Nottingham where he’s virtually adopted by Sir Richard Loxley (a dignified Max von Sydow). Old man Loxley insists Robin continue in his guise as his son, which means sharing the chamber (but not bed) of Robert’s widow Marion.

Blanchett’s reaction when she learns of her husband’s death is a master of understatement, a shocked look and a slight stagger: kudos to the actress and the writer for not milking that scene. By an extraordinary coincidence, it turns out Sir Richard knew Robin’s father and is so is able to explain how his dad died and the legacy he left his son. This is later manifested in Robin’s impassioned speech on the rights of man, a precursor to the Magna Carta.

Meanwhile King John’s treacherous aide Sir Godfrey (Mark Strong, sporting the same shaved head and menacing look he had in Kick-Ass) discovers Robin is alive and well in Nottingham. Godfrey bears a grudge and a scar on his face after being struck by an arrow fired by Robin back in France.

This sets up a fiery, brutal confrontation between Godfrey’s men and Robin’s forces in Nottingham, followed by that superbly-orchestrated battle on the English Coast, where archers on cliff-tops rain down a torrent of arrows on the French invaders before troops engage the enemy on the beach and in bloodied water. Also impressive is the earlier scene where a number of boats sail up the Thames to the Tower of London.

All well and good, but there’s very little emotion or suspense and the film finishes just as Robin is declared an outlaw. Maybe the sequel, which Scott and Crowe have said they’re planning, will give us the real Robin Hood.


2 hours 20 min
In Cinemas 13 May 2010,
Wed, 09/22/2010 - 11