REVIEW: Ugly, Interminable Robin Hood Steals From Audiences
In days of yore, the myth of Robin Hood was embodied by brave and noble men: Douglas Fairbanks outwitting the king's thugs by sliding down the length of a slippery medieval brocade curtain; Errol Flynn striding jauntily into a great hall with a dead stag draped around his shoulders like a royal's stole. But, as Ridley Scott's Robin Hood suggests, those are heroes from a lost age. Today's Robin Hood is far more complex, a tortured soul suffering from repressed-memory syndrome, a freedom fighter whose perpetual scowl speaks of a highly attuned sense of justice. Today's Robin Hood is the spirit of freedom disguised as a grumpy gus in a leather jerkin, and he carries something far heavier than legend -- or even Errol Flynn's stag carcass -- on his shoulders: a backstory.
No wonder Russell Crowe, who plays the renowned bandit hero in Scott's big fat mess of an epic, looks so cranky and numbed-out. Robin Hood isn't merely misguided, or overly ambitious, or excessively laden with special effects. Its problems are much bigger than that: The picture is simply oppressive in its blandness, a lumbering symbol of everything that's wrong with big-budget moviemaking these days. Reportedly, Scott may have spent as much as $237 million on this dreary parade float of a movie, but why quibble about the actual amount? The real outrage is that the dollar signs don't even show. Cinematographer John Mathieson, using a palette of dank mud greens and grays, seems to be going for kitchen-sink medievalism, and in the process gives us the ugliest England imaginable, a country hardly worth saving. The picture's numerous battle sequences are cluttered and imprecise, but worse than that, they're just plain ugly -- their most exciting visual elements are flying mud and a jumble of horses' hooves. And the story -- set in the days before Robin Hood started robbing from the rich and giving to the poor -- is all mechanics and no drama. Brian Helgeland's screenplay (from a story by Helgeland, Ethan Reiff, and Cyrus Voris) is needlessly complicated. The filmmakers obviously think murkiness and unnecessary digressions are the same as depth.
There's a lot going on in this Robin Hood, so much that not even the guys in Universal's press department can figure it out. The movie's tagline is "The untold story of how a man became a legend." Apparently, the story still hasn't been told to the poor schmoe who wrote the synopsis in movie's press notes, which reads in part, "Hoping to earn the hand of Maid Marion and salvage the village, Robin assembles a gang whose lethal mercenary skills are matched only by its appetite for life. Together, they begin preying on the indulgent upper class to correct injustices under the sheriff."
That's actually the plot of the Errol Flynn version. In this Robin Hood, Robin's gang is assembled long before he gets to Marion's village: The movie opens as Danny Huston's King Richard the Lionheart is busy waging war against the infidels abroad -- leading the Crusades, don'tcha know -- with the then-named Robin Longstride as one of his loyal soldiers. Robin gets involved in a scuffle -- he angers a hotheaded fellow soldier by duping him with a variation on ye olde three carde monte -- and is put into the stocks, escaping (with the guys who will become the core of his not-so-merry men, a faceless bunch including Scott Grimes and Kevin Durand) when King Richard is killed. Robin returns to England, disguised as dead knight Robert Loxley, and eventually makes his way to Nottingham, where he's greeted warmly by the dead knight's father, Sir Walter Loxley (a creaky Max von Sydow), who happened to know Robin's real-life father, the man whom Robin believes abandoned him many years ago.
Pages: 1 2