In Hollywood circles, there’s been some constant actor director tag teams in the past, Johnny Depp,/Tim Burton, Nic Cage/Jerry Bruckheimer, DeNiro(and DiCaprio)/Scorsese to name a few. But if there’s one team that continues to impress, it’s the one, two punch of Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe. Well those two were at it again, this time to tell the story of Robin Hood. Despite years of saturation from the famous man in green tights, this was a different tale all together that is not the tale you think you’ve seen. But where shall I start? Maybe I’ll take a cue from the movie and start…at the beginning.
Now as per a recent trend in Hollywood, prequels and origin stories have taken a bit of a front seat as far as story telling goes. Being as this isa”before the legend” film, there was a lot of ground to cover. However, how do you make a compelling story about the most famous archer BEFORE he got to be famous, especially when just that idea alone would omit all of the characters that we know, love and make Robin who he is? Well Scott, what gives? While those answers would do nothing but lead to an already tough uphill battle, Scott and writer Brian Helgeland threw out convention, disassembled the puzzle and put it together they way they wanted. Purists gasped and fans of the Hood looked around confused as the elements of the famous outlaw were rebuilt to make an origin story. I guess it worked out because in order to make an adaptation that works you have to change things up. Also, if you tell the same exact story as everyone else, how much can you do to really make it stand out against the other films out there?
For me, watching this was a bit tough, but mainly because of the things that kept running through my brain. The problem seeing this, when you have so many other Robins (much like Batman or James Bond), is how can we the audience stop from recalling the previous heroes and incarnations? Especially when one or two of those incarnations are pretty much hardwired in to our psyche. I admit, while I didn’t totally think of Kevin Costner while during this film, after years of appreciating it, it’s tough to admit there’s now a new kid on the block.
As always, Crowe let’s us know why he’s one of the finest working actors in Hollywood. Tough when he needs to be tough and gentles when the occasion calls for it. Not just a typical or type-cast action hero, Crowe shows vulnerability amongst his bravado and as Robin he show many more layers than the previous 2 dimensional Robins. Also Mark Strong, now sporting some French dialogue, just impresses beyond capacity. I was a bit disappointed with his role in Kick-Ass but as Godfrey is one of his best roles to date…although I couldn’t kick the thought that his scarring wasn’t inspired by The Dark Knight.
Where as in Iron Man 2, the side characters were merely scenery to the Downey show, the rest of the Robin Hood cast actually showed up for this one. I personally liked Oscar Isaac‘s Prince John (performance not character). Although vile, his turn helped lend a sniveling presence to the entire camp of heavies which gave this movie had me recalling the feel of Braveheart more than a few times. A hero is only as good as the villains and the villains here aided in making Robin Hood even more epic.
Sadly, although I am usually a fan of Blanchette, I thought she just didn’t have the chops to stand up next to Crowe. I wanted to be impressed but sadly was not. Next, of all the actors, none made me question their presence here more than William Hurt. A fine actor and one I might actually go out of my way to see a movie of his, just didn’t belong here. Sporting an accent that seemed beyond his acting ability, he just was an odd cast…I just found myself asking “what the hell is William Hurt doing here?”
Now people call me crazy but I think Danny Huston has more on the ball than people give him credit for. While his performance was too short for my liking, Danny Huston showed us that he has talent that is much deeper than we’ve seen in the dreaded X-Men Origins: Wolverine…I for one wanted to see more of him, so his lack of presence left me saddened. Lastly, Max von Sydow, in a role all too similar to the one Richard Harris played in Gladiator, helped Robin connect with his past, but it felt so contrived. Someone who was unknowingly destined for greatness and just so happened to have it come at the opportune moment…but hey, isn’t this a fairy tale of sorts? Yet as much as I liked Sydow, his turn didn’t do much to help me distance the two films from one another.
While I stayed away from trailers to keep from spoiling things for me, other things like preconceptions (mostly about this being a Ridley Scott film and living up to those expectations), I felt didn’t allow me to take this film at face value. Was this Gladiator part 2? No, but it wasn’t supposed to be. So why did my brain trick to into thinking it would be? Also, it’s so hard to swallow a new spin on an old classic when all the familiar pieces have been jumbled up, reordered, and a heavy dose of “not you parent’s Robin Hood” was laid out for world opinion.
Despite my neurosis and baggage I brought to the film, I really enjoyed this tale. Less fun but more epic should the tag line here. Although this film messes with all previous Robin lore and canon, I loved how this movie acknowledged that it is bigger than itself as it paved an almost revolutionary path. That said, they left it open for a much grander adventure ahead (a la Batman Begins). Again, it is the fine performances of Crowe, Strong and the quasi comic relief of his merry men that power the movie through.
Personally I fell the decision to show Robin’s rise to infamy was a more successful narrative rather than just have a cast of todays’ talented elite tell a very recycled tale. Especially when the perceivably underwhelming story leaves it open to a very grand follow-up. I am so ready for the continuation of what they established with the set up. I just hope there’s enough critical and financial success to do so. While I am still a bit bummed they didn’t develop that early “Nottingham” story (where Crowe played both Robin and the Sheriff) with the set up for another story, I am willing to let it go.
G-S-T Ruling 3.5/5
G-S-T Seal of Approval – GRANTED