‘Robin Hood’ movie review: Russell Crowe is the folk hero in new Ridley Scott film

Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood is a mostly solid tale of the “real” origins of the legendary character, with just one problem: it ain’t a damn Robin Hood movie. It’s perpetually stuck between a faithful portrayal of all the famous characters we know and love, and something more grandiose: a Ridley Scott epic in the vein of Gladiator or Kingdom of Heaven (or Braveheart, or King Arthur, or, well, you get the point.) 

But it’s good-enough entertainment, made by capable filmmakers: tightly scripted by Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential), though we know where this is going and the ending isn’t really justified by what comes before it, and efficiently directed by Scott, if a tad long in the tooth (the same could be said for his previous epics, though the extended version of Kingdom of Heaven earned it’s extreme runtime.) 

And it’s well-cast and acted, with Russell Crowe at his most likeable (and slimmest!) since 2005’s Cinderella Man as Robin Longstride, soon to become Robin Loxley, and eventually Robin of the Hood. Cate Blanchett makes for a lovely Marion, and the duo bring an elegant aspect of romance to the screen. 

There’s solid support by Max von Sydow and William Hurt, and Mark Strong, as Sir Godfrey, makes for an adequate baddie (Oscar Isaac, on the other hand, is no Claude Raines as Prince John.) But Robin Hood doesn’t work as a Robin Hood movie: there’s no dashing sense of justice, no steal-from-the-rich-give-to-the-poor as Robin leads his not-so-merry men in a vicious battle against – the French? 

Yes, here Robin unites the peasants across the land, unfairly taxed, villages burned to the ground – and after some equality-for-all pep talk and a dubious promise by Prince John – they’re off to fend off invading French forces and the treacherous Godfrey in the name of the King. 

The nature of the character, set up so nicely in an early scene where he speaks his mind to Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston), has morphed into something else. 

Nor does the movie work as a Ridley Scott historical epic: it’s been sanitized for PG-13 audiences, cleansed of blood and gore, the multiple war scenes frustratingly edited to hide the violence. 

The impact is lost, and the action scenes are far less effective than we’ve seen before. Robin Hood begins with Robin, Little John (Kevin Durand), Will Scarlet (Scott Grimes) and Allan A’Dayle (Alan Doyle) fighting alongside Richard the Lionheart in France. 

He impersonates the deceased Robert Loxley in order to return home, and soon finds himself impersonating Loxley so that the man’s father, William Loxley (von Sydow) has a surrogate son, and Widow Marion Loxley (Blanchett) has a man to inherit her land. 

Meanwhile, 13th Century politics: Prince John inherits the throne from Richard, dispenses of the faithful advisor William Marshal (Hurt), and allies himself with the secretly traitorous Godfrey, who proceeds to terrorize the land in John’s name. 

This strange villain-villain relationship – in which the more powerful villain is supposed to be less villainous than another one who betrays him – just doesn’t work all that well dramatically, and recalls the Zues-Hades relationship from Clash of the Titans

Robin Hood, as shot by Scott standby John Mathieson (Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven), is awash in browns and puke-greens; an ugly sea of dirt and mud and perpetually dying foliage. 

Realistic, perhaps (though the forests could occasionally be filled with some vibrancy, no?), but soon your eyes begin to reject all the grime and you’ll be pining for the crisp, clean Technicolor splendor of 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood

At the end, we’re given a title card: “and the legend begins,” which seems to suggest a sequel; modest box office prospects would suggest otherwise. And few, I imagine, will want to see this “true” story behind the legend carried over into the legend itself. 

Still, Robin Hood works just fine for what it set out to do; I can only criticize the wrong-headedness of what it set out to do, and non-fans of Robin Hood will enjoy this just fine. 

For fans, there’s no shortage of films that pick up where this one leaves off: from the 1922 silent with Douglas Fairbanks, to the definitive 1938 Errol Flynn version, through Richard Lester’s underrated Robin and Marian up to the largely ridiculed but entertaining Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, with Kevin Costner. And who really wants another Robin Hood that does the same old-same old, anyway?

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Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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