Those hoping for a whiz-bang re-telling of the legend of merry men stealing from the rich and giving to the poor will be sorely disappointed with Ridley Scotts ROBIN HOOD. This is an origins tale, one that starts slowly and, despite anxious and insistent hand-held camera work to give the illusion of drama, never rises to the level of a simmer. In the curious twilight of Scotts signature dark cinematography, where it is never morning or afternoon, this just a long slog towards the even darker dead of night where flat characters speak flat lines as the story meanders across the map. Instead of a rousing tale of good and evil, there is a survey of the socio-religio-politico-economic landscape of England and France in the 13th century, a time of injustice and mud. Its the same message one can garner about feudal society from salient portions of MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL in less time and with a great deal more entertainment value. Not to mention perspicacity.
This Robin (Russell Crowe) is Robin Longstride, a peasant and crack archer returning from a 10-year crusade led by Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston). Richard, unwilling to face a life of declining old age after the glory of war, is taking his time getting back to England. He fills the time by pillaging the French countryside while decrying the lack of an honest man in his army. Naturally he finds one in Robin. Its a short-lived détente. Richard takes an arrow to the neck besieging a castle and his lieutenant Robin of Loxsley fares no better while attempting to return Richards crown to England. Fortunately, Robin Longstride, along with pals Little John (Kevin Durand), Alan A Dayle (Alan Doyle) and Will Scarlet (Scott Grimes), is there to promise Locksley that his mission will be accomplished. That its also an opportunity for the commoners to don the armor, and with it their superior social standing, of the troop of dead knights who failed to get the crown where it needed to be is an added incentive. This is familiar territory to screenwriter Brian Helgeland, who explored same in A KNIGHTS TALE to better effect and better music.
Robin has one further task. That would be returning Loxleys sword to his father with an apology for having parted in anger. No word to his widow-to-be, though, the not-so maid Marion (Cate Blanchette), who, being childless, will be losing the bedraggled estate once her elderly father-in-law, Sir Walter (Max von Sydow) dies, which from the looks of him could be at any moment.
The story rambles from one locale to the other, failing to gain traction anywhere with its relentless flitting. King John (Oscar Isaac) throwing petulant fits and lusting for the wrong woman, King Johns mother smacking the monarch and the latter dismissing his trusted Chancellor (William Hurt) in a fit of pique, Marion refusing the advances of the Sherriff of Nottingham and later being starchy with Robin when forced to pretend hes her dead husband in order to keep the property going, Friar Tuck (Mark Addy) and his obsession with bees. Fascinating snippets of the great pageant of history and legend presented so haphazardly that collectively they refuse to allow the audience to be engaged.
Blanchett and Crowe share little chemistry. He seems only half committed to the process, relying on his now signature snarls and bellows. She provides all the steel. There is short shrift to those merry men, with little for any of them to do but provide a decorative backdrop to Robins musings, snarls, and bellows. Only Addy, with his natural ebullience, makes an impression beyond the ornamental.
At no time is it explained how Robin translates his considerable skills into archery to those of a swordsman able to do credible battle with a trained knight using a very heavy sword that takes years to master. A well-crafted film might have addressed it, a well-crafted film might have created the proper atmosphere for the suspension of disbelief necessary. Alas, a well-crafted film is not what is on offer here. Suspended uncertainly between a psychological study of a man searching for his past, and an action flick, ROBIN HOOD falls squarely nowhere. The Magna Carta springs from a visionary stone mason (shades of the Masonic conspiracy myths), and the fate of two kingdoms is at the mercy of a mercenary with interesting scars (Mark Strong, who sneers his way through the role). Even the French landing on English shores that should be the climax of the flick looks like nothing so much as a retread of any cinematic D-Day landing depicted in the last 50 years with arrows instead of bullets. The Bayeux Tapestry in wool and linen is more vibrant in its illustration of the Norman Invasion of 1066. This is a lugubrious two hours plus of mud, blood, and the dynamics of how to remove a suit of chain mail.