Tuesday 1 January 2013


(Ridley Scott, 2010)

While there is an unmistakeable whiff of something very much like contractual obligation about Robin Hood, that does not mean it is without its pleasures. It is that rare beast, a Summer Blockbuster aimed mostly at grown-ups. As such its extremely wordy - the machinations detailed in the opening act in order to set up the plot are nothing if not torturous, as Dukes plot with Kings who betray Barons and double-cross cousins against the backdrop of Anglo-French tension, political infighting and taxation disputes. All this happens while we are still getting to know the principals, Robin Longstride, a Northern Archer campaigning in France with King Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston, tearing lumps of ham off with his bare hands) , and Marion Locksley (Cate Blanchett), an independent war widow who runs the lands owned by her infirm father-in-law (Max Von Sydow). They eventually meet after much complication, and finally Robin learns who he is and what his destiny must be. Strangely, considering its title, this is not really a "Robin Hood" film.
It ends just as Robin and his Merry (more bawdy, in this case) Men become outlaws, pursued by the Sheriff of Nottingham (an underused Matthew MacFadyen) and enemy to King John (Oscar Isaac, terrifically loathsome throughout) and living at one with nature in Sherwood Forest.
Before that it feels almost as if Scott and screenwriter Brian Helgeland had in mind a different story altogether, and decided to link it with the Robin Hood legend just because they could.
The Robin Hood film it most resembles is Robin and Marian, Richard Lester's superb 1976 elegy for youth, love and heroism lost. That comparison does this film no favours, but it does borrow some of the gritty textures and much of the material with Richard Lionheart in France. Bizarrely it yokes all that to a plot centred around the Magna carta, recasting Robin as a more outright freedom fighter than most narratives do, and throwing in a massive battle on a beach for its climax.
Despite being about 45 minutes too long, it just about works. Scott understands this sort of Epic filmmaking, and nobody visualises it quite like him - this is a film full of casually beautiful shots and sequences, and cinematographer John Mathieson does some staggering work. There are battles and banquets, hissable villains aplenty and dashing heroism, and an incredibly classy cast in even the smallest roles, from Mark Strong as the main villain to William Hurt as a sympathetic court advisor.
But this sort of thing really rests upon the leads; and Crowe and Blanchett make an extremely convincing and likeable couple. Crowe can do this sort of macho hero role in his sleep, and though his accent is all over the British Isles, he is one of the only movie stars we have who has true star quality and actual acting ability, and he combines them here. He and Blanchett - that rarity, a leading lady around his age - have significant chemistry, and she is just as powerful and commanding as he is.
Even when all the mayhem around them is clattering awkwardly along,  an obviously impersonal corporate product and something of a mess from a director capable of so much more, the leads keep the focus intimate and real, and the film benefits massively from that.

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