Robin Hood

Seems devoted to stifling whatever pleasure audiences may have derived from the popular legend.

Robin Longstride - Russell Crowe Marion Loxley - Cate Blanchett William Marshal - William Hurt Godfrey - Mark Strong Friar Tuck - Mark Addy Prince John - Oscar Isaac King Richard the Lionheart - Danny Huston Little John - Kevin Durand Will Scarlet - Scott Grimes Sheriff of Nottingham - Matthew Macfadyen Eleanor of Aquitaine - Eileen Atkins Father Tancred - Simon McBurney Sir Walter Loxley - Max von Sydow

“Can you not sing a happy tune?” growls a not-so-merry man in “Robin Hood,” and one might direct the same question at Ridley Scott’s grimly revisionist take on England’s most famous outlaw. Impressively made and serious-minded to a fault, this physically imposing picture brings abundant political-historical dimensions to its epic canvas, yet often seems devoted to stifling whatever pleasure audiences may have derived from the popular legend. With a brawny Russell Crowe in the title role, pic looks to hit its B.O. target in most markets, though overall muted reactions may hold Universal back from a king’s ransom Stateside.

While the film will earn immediate comparisons with 2004’s gritty, unromantic “King Arthur,” what Scott and scribe Brian Helgeland have attempted here is not too dissimilar from what Christopher Nolan and his collaborators pulled off with “Batman Begins”: They’ve fashioned a fresh origin story for a well-known hero and excised all the material’s potentially campy aspects in favor of a downbeat, detail-oriented realist approach.

To that end, there are tricky political allegiances and family ties to be sorted out; characters are as likely to be assaulted by speeches as by arrows; the French, though clearly perceived here as the enemy, are at least allowed to speak their native tongue; and every castle and forest must be painstakingly identified, to the point that “Robin Hood” comes to resemble a medieval “Bourne” movie as it darts hither and yon from Nottingham to the northern coast of France.

It’s 1199 A.D., and Robin Longstride (Crowe, who produced with Scott and Brian Grazer) is an honorable Briton and skilled archer in the crusading army of King Richard (Danny Huston) — who, in contrast to most versions of the story, appears at the beginning rather than the end. Fed up with their lot as soldiers, Robin and his men — who include a slimmer-than-usual Little John (Kevin Durand), contributing a few moments of bawdy humor — flee a battle with French soldiers shortly after Richard himself is killed in action.

A few skirmishes later, Robin finds himself in possession of the late monarch’s crown, which he bears back to London disguised as a knight of the realm, Sir Robert Loxley. Along the way, the film introduces its principal villains, although Richard’s cruel successor, John (Oscar Isaac), turns out to be a mere tool for his suspiciously bilingual adviser, Godfrey (chrome-domed Mark Strong, once again typecast).

While Godfrey sets the stage for a Gallic invasion, sabotaging John’s relations with the local barons and their ruthlessly overtaxed citizens, Robin nobly seeks out the family of the fallen Sir Robert. The journey leads him to Nottingham, where he meets the knight’s aging father, Sir Walter (Max von Sydow), and his widow, Lady Marion — no damsel in distress, but a dagger-wielding spitfire played with relish by Cate Blanchett.

The pairing of two such estimable actors as Crowe and Blanchett alone signals the film’s serious intentions, and as a perhaps inevitable consequence, Robin and Marion’s courtship is in no hurry to catch fire. Something similar could be said of the film, whose leisurely buildup rarely translates into a sense of intellectual vigor and pays few emotional dividends. Essentially 139 minutes’ worth of backstory, “Robin Hood” feels too long yet incomplete, and the events it leaves offscreen (for what, the sequel?) are precisely those that make the tale worth retelling.

Clearly a long way from Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn (and, to no one’s complaint, Kevin Costner), pic can’t help but play like a joyless corrective to Robin Hood’s prior screen adventures, with their buoyant mix of wit, romance, green tights and derring-do. (This film offers mainly derring-don’t.) A certain nagging political correctness is also apparent, not only in the recasting of Blanchett’s Marion as a 12th-century feminist, but in the way Robin rebukes Richard and the folly of the Crusades, a scene that brings Scott’s “Kingdom of Heaven” to mind.

Similarly, Robin’s stirring speech on the brotherhood of man (it’s a quasi-Ken Loach moment, laying the foundation for the Magna Carta) recalls Scott and Crowe’s superior first collaboration, “Gladiator” (2000). Now 10 years older (and paunchier), Crowe still has the sullen brooding and iron-clad sense of righteousness down pat. But there’s no twinkle of merriment in his eyes, nothing to suggest a man who would not only be outraged by poverty and injustice, but wily enough to make sport of those responsible.

Among supporting players, Isaac channels “Gladiator’s” Joaquin Phoenix as a fey yet ruthless tyrant; Eileen Atkins serves up a formidable Eleanor of Aquitaine; William Hurt brings subtle shadings to the role of a chancellor in whom Robin finds a shrewd ally; and Matthew Macfadyen sneers his way through a few scenes as the Sheriff of Nottingham. But it’s von Sydow who gives the film’s most heartrending turn as a man trying to smother his grief with a boisterous fighting spirit.

Though heavier on talk than action, pic does boast some robust setpieces, amplified by Marc Streitenfeld’s urgent score and d.p. John Mathieson’s vertiginous crane shots, somewhat marred by distracting camera effects in an otherwise stylistically old-fashioned film. One must be grateful that Universal avoided the current blockbuster trend toward 3D, especially considering the eye-popping possibilities afforded by archery.

Other craft contributions are generally superb, though some touches, such as the illuminated manuscripts that serve as expository visual aids, only compound the film’s self-seriousness.

Robin Hood


Production: A Universal release presented with Imagine Entertainment in association with Relativity Media of a Brian Grazer production in association with Scott Free Prods. Produced by Grazer, Ridley Scott, Russell Crowe. Executive producers, Charles J.D. Schlissel, Michael Costigan, Jim Whitaker, Ryan Kavanaugh. Co-producer, Nikolas Korda. Co-executive producer, Michael Ellenberg. Directed by Ridley Scott. Screenplay, Brian Helgeland; story, Helgeland, Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris.

Crew: Camera (color, Panavision widescreen), John Mathieson; editor, Pietro Scalia; music, Marc Streitenfeld; production designer, Arthur Max; supervising art director, John King; art directors, Mark Homes, Adam O'Neill, Matt Robinson, Mike Stallion, Tom Still, Mark Swain, Remo Tozzi, Alex Cameron, Anthony Caron-Delion; set decorator, Sonja Klaus; costume designer, Janty Yates; sound (DTS/SDDS/Dolby Digital), Tony Dawe, John Mooney; supervising sound editors, Wylie Stateman, Mark Stoeckinger; re-recording mixers, Paul Massey, David Giammarco; visual effects supervisor, Richard Stammers; visual effects, MPC, Hammerhead Prods., Prime Focus, Invisible Effects, Lola VFX; stunt coordinator, Matthew Sampson; associate producer, Keith Rodger; assistant director, Max Keene; second unit director, Alexander Witt; casting, Jina Yay. Reviewed at Arclight Cinemas, Los Angeles, May 4, 2010. (In Cannes Film Festival -- opener, noncompeting.) MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 139 MIN.

With: Robin Longstride - Russell Crowe Marion Loxley - Cate Blanchett William Marshal - William Hurt Godfrey - Mark Strong Friar Tuck - Mark Addy Prince John - Oscar Isaac King Richard the Lionheart - Danny Huston Little John - Kevin Durand Will Scarlet - Scott Grimes Sheriff of Nottingham - Matthew Macfadyen Eleanor of Aquitaine - Eileen Atkins Father Tancred - Simon McBurney Sir Walter Loxley - Max von Sydow(English, French dialogue)

More Film

  • Themba Ntuli and Ashley Lazarus

    Ashley Lazarus, Director of Apartheid-Era Cult Classic, Returns to Screen

    DURBAN–Director Ashley Lazarus, whose film about the interracial friendship between two young boys during the apartheid era became a South African cult classic in the 1970s, is set to return to the big screen with a film that builds on his life-long passion for early-childhood education. “Teacher Wanted” is the inspirational story of a teacher [...]

  • Channing Tatum

    Channing Tatum's Free Association Partners With Atwater Capital for Film Development Fund

    Free Association, a production company led by Channing Tatum, Peter Kiernan and Reid Carolin, has entered into a film development fund with Atwater Capital. The four-year $2 million revolving fund stipulates that Atwater will finance a minimum of five films with Free Association. Michael Parets, VP of production, will oversee the deal. Free Association will [...]

  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

    Box Office: Tarantino's 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' Takes on 'Lion King'

    Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” will have to take on much more than a changing showbiz landscape. This weekend, the washed-up actor and his majordomo are battling Disney’s juggernaut “The Lion King” at the domestic box office. Tarantino’s R-rated auteur [...]

  • Margot Robbie Once Upon a Time

    Margot Robbie Says 'Barbie' Movie Will Put 'Positivity' Into the World

    Over the last 10 years, Margot Robbie has stepped into the skates of Tonya Harding, taken up the mantle of Harley Quinn and, next up, she’s playing the world’s most famous doll, Barbie. The live-action film is due out in 2020 and set to be written by Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach, while Robbie serves [...]

  • 2018 NALIP Gala

    National Association of Latino Independent Producers Celebrates Its 20th Anniversary

    Ben Lopez has seen the future of the entertainment industry, and says it is the Latinx community. “In the next 20 years, we’re going to be prioritized — because not only will we have the numbers demographic-wise, we’ll have the spending power,” says Lopez, the executive director of the National Assn. of Latino Independent Producers, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content