Robin Hood

I mentioned in my Upcoming Reviews page that I feared Robin Hood might feel like Gladiator with bows and arrows. If only that had been the case; such an exercise might have kept my attention. Robin Hood, the second collaboration between director Ridley Scott and pugilistically infamous actor Russell Crowe, cannot even pass as a shadow of their triumphant first meeting. The main culprit, without question, is the bloated and generic script. Once upon a time, a script by the name of Nottingham surfaced from the talented team responsible for the surprisingly entertaining Kung Fu Panda.  The script, which chronicled the Robin Hood story as a mystery from the perspective of the evil sheriff, became a hot commodity.  When Ridley Scott was assigned to the project, however, he ordered a succession of rewrites which eventually mutated the project from its original form into the nearly incoherent rehash that opened in theaters last Friday.

For more details on the strange story behind the script, see this exhaustive account:

While the writers of Nottingham, Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris, are still credited for writing Robin Hood, the final script reflects only the efforts of Ridley Scott and Oscar-winning writer Brian Helgeland, the man Ridley brought in for the re-writes.  Alas, Robin Hood is anything but Oscar level material.  I’m actually more inclined to blame Helgeland for the mess.  His past works have often centered around modern social issues (Green Zone, Mystic River), and somebody has made an explicit effort to anachronistically retroject modern sensibilities and concerns into the environs of Sherwood Forest.  The heavy-handed moralistic content makes for a number of unintentionally comedic scenes; these moments, more than any others, pushed me out of the movie and back into my theater seat.  The other, less damning and far more common fault of the film can probably be attributed to Ridley’s series of re-writes.  Robin Hood has no soul. You’ve already seen a better version of this movie: Braveheart, Last of the Mohicans, or even Scott’s own Kingdom of Heaven can lay claim to the label “successful historical epic.”  What’s missing?  Likeable, believable characters- plain and simple.  The script introduces a host of sub-plots and characters; in doing so, it fails to adequately develop any of them.

Robin Hood’s best acting comes from the minor roles.  Max von Sydow and Will Hurt are seasoned actors that impress me time and time again.  Eileen Atkins, an actress with whom I was previously unfamiliar, plays a very convincing mother to King Richard.  And Mark Strong turns in another fine performance, though recent roles lead me to believe that he’s being typecast.  Cate Blanchett must be Hollywood’s most consistent actress and she performs well here, but I found the material for her part so jarring that it was difficult to judge her performance.  Crowe’s Robin left me a bit ambivalent, but again, the script is so trite and underdeveloped that I can’t entirely fault him.  Ron Howard sure as hell knows how to get a great performance out of Crowe (A Beautiful Mind, Cinderella Man), so something was off-kilter here.

It’s a shame that the writing falls so flat, because the direction and costumes successfully evoke a medieval aesthetic.  Towering castles watch over a filthy, credible Sherwood, and Ridley, for all his faults, knows how to film its inhabitants and their bloody struggles.  The visceral battles constitute the only wholly functional aspect of the film, but because the story fails to coalesce, the later action scenes feel empty and tired.

On some very marginal level, I enjoyed the first half of Robin Hood. The second half, despite its incoherence, becomes so terribly predictable that I found myself waiting for it to end. Some noteworthy visuals can’t rescue this thoroughly lackluster movie from its bargain-bin destiny.

The Round-Up
Bland, preachy, and fatally unfocused
The cast makes the best of some seriously troubled material
The camera work does justice to the art design, but Ridley ultimately deserves blame for poor editing of already poor content.
Marc Streitenfeld's pulsing violins drive the action, but hackneyed themes hold the rest of the score back.
Just rewatch the Disney cartoon. You'll have more fun.

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