It has the simplest title of all Robin Hood adaptations but Ridley Scott’s latest; a rousing, decidedly old-school, violent, gritty, character-driven, swords & arrows epic is easily the most emotionally complex screen rendering of the oft-told tale to date. Not that I’m saying anything particularly Earth-shattering with that statement. All previous Hood movies were surface level flicks whilst Scott’s newest strives for something rather more interesting.
Existing as almost a direct sequel to his own critically problematic Kingdom of Heaven, ‘Robin Hood’ adds depth to the legend of Sherwood Forest and updates a rather tired and silly-old myth with deeper historical intrigue and welcomed down to Earth realism.
It’s ‘Hood Begins’, essentially, with an energetic central performance from Russell Crowe who plays this kind of noble hero better than anyone. It fills in the flaws gaps that you may not have previously cared to ponder about when Errol Flynn was flying around elaborate sets in bright green tights 80 years ago, and does so in a believable, satisfying way. And always with surprising sophistication.
Now I realise I reside squarely in the minority camp on when reading the many pans of Ridley Scott’s latest, but I just wonder what it is that people didn’t like about it?
Sometimes critics get criticized themselves for reviewing the movie they wanted to see rather than the one that was put before them and in terms of ‘Hood’, that’s seems to be right on the money for me. To my amazement, they are yearning for more of the Kevin Costner, Errol Flynn, Douglas Fairbanks, Carey Elwes and even once upon a time, Sean Connery – dashing wit, ridiculous swagger and paper-thin hero-worship morality centred on a guy who robbed from the rich and gave to the poor. The legend who could dodge arrows as much as he could taxes, and got rather merry with his men.
Yes, the hero that IMDB tells you that you’ve probably seen in over a hundred television and film productions. Apologies if I think that Hood has been done to death and I’m welcoming a movie that tries something a little different with open arms.
Instead Scott has delivered an unapologetic, old-school actioner that stays close to Hood as a character and adds plenty of historical weight. There’s far more going on here than you might first imagine. Focusing on the unfamiliar part of the Hood mythology that is usually glossed over or just downright ignored… the film begins with the deadly archer in France fighting alongside Richard The Lionheart (Danny Huston) in his final battle of 1199.
He is not a knight here, but a common ‘work for hire’ pawn named Robin Longstride who is known for his integrity, honesty and his opportunistic way of jumping into fights against bigger men than he (i.e. Littlejohn, played by the usually villainous Canadian Kevin Durand). When King Richard dies, he tasks Robin of Loxley (Douglas Hodge) with the duty of taking his crown back to England, but a murderous ambush by English traitor Godfrey (basically the Guy of Gisbourne character of this version, played with particular relish by a Joker-scarred Mark Strong, who has a wonderful Black Raven style look and signature score) and some French resistance fighters (including Perrier LaPadite from Inglourious Basterds) leaves an opportunity for Longstride to take the persona of Loxley, and win his way back home.
The opening scenes are handled with urgency that the rest of the film would have benefited from, and clearly outline that Longstride is not yet the hero he later becomes.
From there we have a few nods to ‘Kingdom of Heaven’, a little ‘Lion in the Winter’ Freudian horseplay between Eleanor of Aquitaine (Eileen Atkins) and her son, a little ‘Gladiator’, a bit of Bruce Wayne-taking up one father’s legacy, something of a Normandy invasion style battle sequence, and even the signing of the Magna Carta.
It’s a well-acted movie (you know you are in safe hands when the likes of William Hurt play the supporting characters) and although it may take a while for Crowe, Blanchett and Isaac in particular to really fit into the characters and make them their own, it’s worth sticking around to see them become comfortable.