Film Review – Robin Hood

As much as I like director Ridley Scott‘s work, I did ask myself whether I might be suffering from sword and sandal fatigue when I saw the trailers for his latest work, Robin Hood. We’ve had Scott’s own genre invigorating Gladiator, the so-so Kingdom of Heaven and Troy. Recently there’s been Clash of the Titans and soon, Prince of Persia. So does two hours of romping through the mud wearing chainmail and leather cut the olde English mustard?

The answer is, just about. It’s Gladiator with less gore, a bit more Sunday afternoon viewing, with the battlefield antics and drink-and-be-merry village set-pieces to tick the standard medieval boxes.

Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) is an archer serving in the company of King Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston), returning from The Crusades and laying siege to one more French castle before returning to England. A French cook serving soup on the battlements of said castle (this is how serious the French are about food, that it is served in the midst of a bloody battle), finds his way to a crossbow and makes a kebab out of le grand ros beouf, King Richard. Sacre bleu indeed.

Later, the King of France is plotting to stir up discontent in England by planting the Vadar-like Godfrey (Mark Strong) into the court of the newly crowned King John, intent on inciting rebellion in the north with recommendations of raising employee National Insurance contributions, or possibly tax. England will tear herself apart through civil war, and the the French king can sail the Channel and march in under the Fleur-de-Lis to conquer a new land. They hadn’t counted on that Australian fella being around though.

Much has been made of Crowe’s wandering accent, and it is true that it ends up drowning in the Irish Sea via Newcastle, rather than the Midlands where they were aiming for. Why didn’t they just say to Crowe, “you know that actor Sean Bean? Just copy him, that’s close enough”? It’s really not that much of a problem as Crowe’s fantastic growling voice gives the requisite amount of conviction to overrule any geographical uncertainty.

The one problem I had was that the film doesn’t have the rousing, oratory qualities of Gladiator, nor does it effectively employ the role of the underdog as that film did. Robin doesn’t have much to lose so the tension does seem to be lacking somewhat. British folk singer Billy Bragg unofficially advised Crowe on the contemporary politics of the ‘Charter of the Forest‘, an act of law that said each man had the right to forage in the countryside under the entitlement of common land. This would have been the fight worth seeing rather than the international politics of kings, which while relevant, isn’t the meat we wanted on the roast. The final battle on the beach is impressive though, cheekily invoking a reverse of the D-Day landings of Saving Private Ryan.

Cate Blanchett puts in a good, but underused turn as Lady Marion Loxley, there to add a little Katherine Hepburn style romantic friction. Alas, it does little to inform us of Robin’s character, other than that he’s that gruff, growling bloke who’s good at leading a charge into battle on horseback. Perhaps more of the Robin Hood myth will be picked up in a possible sequel, but I wouldn’t hold out for it.

John Mathieson BSC, having previously shot this period for both Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven, provides a reliably authentic cinematography of muted browns and greens, representing an unromanticised English countryside. Composer Marc Streitenfeld now out from under the wings of his mentor, Hans Zimmer, provides a score that borrows the latter’s choppy strings from the new Batman franchise, and also a phrase a little too close to Gladiator for comfort. I also think that the romantic Celtic dance for Robin and Marion sounded too much like James Horner’s Irish-inflected score for Titanic. A film of this stature should really have it’s own distinctive musical signature.

Robin Hood is likeable, but instead of stirring English hearts to revolution, it gets stuck in the mud of one too many battle scenes at the expense of characterisation.

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