Robin Hood

Monday, December 27, 2010

Good old reliable Robin Hood. You can always count on him for a rollicking adventure. Whether it’s Errol Flynn or that Yank from Prince of Thieves or that fat bastard from the recent BBC series, he always tries his best to entertain. Sure he may not always succeed but at least he has a go.

Oh wait, who’s this coming round the corner? Why it’s Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott, riding a pair of steeds like constipated badgers. Ah look at them; so serious, so earnest, so dull. They’re like a married couple that’s sucked the life out of one another. Sure it was fun at the start but now they’re far too comfortable in each other’s company. Gladiator seems like another life ago.

This is the fifth collaboration between Scott and Crowe, and with the exception of Gladiator, none of their films have set the world on fire. Yet they still insist on making movies together. Maybe it’s the irresistible urge of two curmudgeons getting to eat bagels, smoke cigars and admire one another’s beards for a few months, or maybe it’s the allure of churning out another mediocre flick. This pair really doesn’t bring the best out of each other.

The concept for this iteration of Robin Hood originally focused on the Sheriff of Nottingham. Apparently it painted him in a more sympathetic light and Robin Hood was something of a wanker. Had the filmmakers had the balls to stick with that concept, they might have produced an interesting film. Instead they decided to produce this mish-mash of crap. It’s not faithful to the story we know, but it’s not different enough to shake things up. As a result it straddles an uncomfortable middle ground, making certain choices seem more than a little puzzling.

For instance, Maid Marian. In this film she’s Lady Marian. She was married for a few days and then her husband went off to the Crusades where he promptly died (well, on the way back). Is the idea of a forty-year old maid too horrible to consider (although I think the character is actually supposed to be younger)? Would it make everyone queasy to see Robin Hood de-flowering a spinster? Are people really that delicate?

In reality, the decision to have Maid Marian become Lady Marian is to support the ill-thought out plot. Robin witnesses the murder of Marian’s husband Robert Loxley at the hands of the evil traitor Sir Godfrey and then assumes the identity of Marian’s husband so that he can sneak back into England. He then enters into an arrangement with Loxley’s father Sir Walter to continue impersonating Loxley so that Sir Walter doesn’t lose his land. Okay, I can understand the thinking behind this plan, but this ends up being queasier than having Marian be a virgin. Sure the old man isn’t literally pimping his daughter-in-law out, but he is making her pretend to be in love with a complete stranger - this guy could be capable of anything. Dirty old man.

There’s also a really stupid decision to have Marian take part in the final battle. Really, is this the only way to show that the character has strength - to have her literally battle the French with sword in hand? Of course, Scott also tries to show Marian’s strength in other ways. There’s a scene where some French soldiers are going to burn some English villagers (fucking Frogs!). Marian leads the effort to free them. But these big moments do nothing to hide the fact that the character is painted in broad, spazzy strokes.

Speaking of the final battle, there’s another moment that makes it even more risible. Not only do we have Marian taking part in the fight, but we also see Friar Tuck kicking arse. Nothing else in the film suggests that he would excel in battle. After all, he’s a fat inebriate who cares more about honey than people. But no, there he is, running through Frenchies with his sword. Love a duck.

Even more criminal than all of this, though, is how colourless the villains are. Mark Strong as Sir Godfrey is a shocking non-entity. He doesn’t exude any menace or danger. And King John is just a petulant retch. He’s like a child who’s never heard the word ‘no’ and therefore feels free to double cross his loyal subjects and lounge all day in bed with his French slut.

Then you have the Sheriff of Nottingham, surely one of the most memorable characters in the Robin Hood legend. Here, though, he’s only in a few scenes and comes across as nothing more than a buffoon. It was also a shockingly poor decision to have him played by Matthew Macfadyen, who must possibly be one of the blandest actors working today. He doesn’t have an objectionable screen presence but that’s only because you rarely notice that he’s there. He’s kind of like the lettuce in a burger. He looks okay but he adds absolutely nothing to the experience - he’s screen garnish.

Doubtless Ridley Scott envisaged an amazing character arc from the Sheriff but it’s unlikely that a sequel will get made for this festering piece of poo. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with telling a story that will span more than one film, but at least make each film entertaining. Robin Hood fails miserably on that score and ends up feeling rather cynical - yeah, let’s stretch this story out and milk the public for all their worth; oh fuck, we forgot to make the film watchable.

Something else that depressed me was the visuals. Usually you can count on Ridley for some nice photography. But no, everything was dark and dingy - it was like a layer of sludge had been smeared across the lens. Despite this, I’ve heard people praise the photography, which leads me to wonder if I received a bum copy. Or maybe studios now are being complete wankers and are purposely making ordinary DVDs look like shit so that they can hawk more Blu-Rays. Anyone have any ideas? But certainly the unrelenting dinginess of the print has made me wonder.

But really, don’t waste your time on this film. Watch the one with the mullets instead. Somehow I find the soppy American more endearing than the Aussie who tries to talk and act like Michael Parkinson. I mean, Robin Hood isn’t supposed to be a gruff dullard. If you wanted that you should have just got Ridley Scott to play the part.

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  1. I must come to the defense of Matthew Macfadyen. His portrait of Mr. Darcy in Joe Wright's Pride & Prejudice is among the best performances I've seen in a long, long time. In fact, if I were asked tonight to put together a list of five nominees for Best Actor in a Leading Role in a Film from the Last Ten Years, I'd nominate Macfadyen for that film.