sat 26/07/2014

Robin Hood | Film reviews, news & interviews

Robin Hood

Not a bullseye: Russell Crowe gives an oaken performance as the legendary outlaw

Solid oak: Russell Crowe as Robin Hood

There's a fabulous movie about Robin Hood opening today. Step forward Gianluigi Toccafondo, whose luminescent five-minute Rotoscope animated version of the myth is an impressionistic, utterly original blender-mix of Chagall, Bacon and Munch. The only snag is that, to catch it, you do first have to sit through a 140-minute live-action curtain-raiser, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Russell Crowe - an Oscar-winning actor who's here as wooden and broad in the beam as a Sherwood oak. At 46, he's also a bit long in the tooth to be starring in a film that bills itself as about the beginning of the legend (could Scott perchance be thinking of a sequel?)

Which is not to say that there's not a fair bit to enjoy here, for a start the gorgeous sense of landscape (even if the film wasn't always shot on the authentic locations) and the visceral battle scenes, all soaring and swooping crane and helicopter shots spiked with buckets of pitch, flaming arrows and battering rams. The script is professional, complex, and meaty in every sense. It opens with the death of Richard the Lionheart while besieging a French castle. A certain Robin Longstride (Crowe) is one of the doughty yeomen in his army heading home to England from the Crusades. En route, he's entrusted with a sword by a dying nobleman who desires Robin to return it to his father. In so doing, Robin finds himself eased into the bedchamber of Marion, the man's widow, played by Cate Blanchett whose frosty hauteur never quite melts into sexual passion.

RHoodbattlesceneMeanwhile Richard's sneaky kid brother, John (Oscar Isaac), whom sibling rivalry and his mother's disfavour have turned into an aggressive, selfish runt, has assumed the throne and finds himself caught up in a Gallic plot to divide and conquer the country. The yarn of how Albion routed the perfidious, cowardly French should go down a right treat on the Croisette where Robin Hood opens the Cannes Film Festival tonight.

Scott has been grudgingly shilling for his film in a series of spectacularly dull interviews that convey the impression even he isn't inspired by it - if you want, you can read one here and another one here. This is a circumspect, revisionist, marketing man's Robin. The opening sequence has Marion routing a band of marauders with her expert archery (worry not, female audience demographic: this is not going to be just another boys' own movie, not matter that she proceeds to vanish from the story for the next 35 minutes). Shortly thereafter, Robin delivers a homily against the anti-Islam Crusades, and soon a little bit of eco self-sufficiency is thrown in too, in the rotund shape of apiculturist Friar Tuck (Mark Addy) - he feeds his bees and they feed him right back, not to mention coming in handy to sting the villains when called upon.

Crowe and Scott have boasted that this is not another tale of men in tights - but isn't that rather a pity? Admirable as it is, their film could do with a healthy dose of full-blown Mel Brooks kitsch, or super swash-and-buckle, or the sweet autumnal melancholy of Richard Lester's Robin and Marian, or Alan Rickman's glowering Sheriff of Nottingham who stole away Robin Hood Prince of Thieves from under the beaky nose of Kevin Costner - one intriguing early concept for Scott's film, then titled Nottingham, told the story from the viewpoint of the law-enforcer, though the Sheriff is here reduced to a bit player. That's the trouble with Crowe's clenched-teeth hero. He leaves the film with a slab of superb supporting performances (including William Hurt, Eileen Atkins, Max von Sydow and Mark Strong) in search of a real central character, or even - for all the mead that's furiously quaffed  - just a little laid-back sense of everyday merriment.

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