Director Ridley Scott reveals the mythology of the beloved hero in his pre-outlaw days
Ridley Scott doesn’t like his heroes to be all nobility, no flaws. Therefore he has taken the myth of Robin Hood and stained it with the blood of helpless women and children, while in the employ of an even more flawed King Richard. This Robin (as played by Russell Crowe) even dabbles in the shell game — literally — and is willing to impersonate a dead knight in order to get back to a home that doesn’t mean that much to him except as a refuge from killing for the sake of killing in a senseless crusade.
No, this is not the classic 1938 The Adventures of Robin Hood, but it is an excellent tale that harks back more to Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven than his Gladiator.
Yes, there are no merry men per say, but there are men of humor. There are no men in tights and Sherwood Forest doesn’t show up until the finish. There is a Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston), without the good press of earlier Robin Hood tales.
One character, however, does remain steadfast in the mythology; King John (Oscar Isaac) is as awful as we’ve come to expect. However, the Sheriff of Nottingham is a weak-willed minor player; his spot as the master manipulator is taken by the traitor Godfrey (Mark Strong).
In this tale of his pre-Sherwood days, Robin Longstride must learn how to be a hero. His instinct for self-preservation is slowly transformed into the nobility to fight for a cause and a life he believes is worth dying for.
We meet Robin Longstride as an archer for King Richard who is weary of war, especially a war that involved killing the innocent. When he dares to express his thoughts on the barbaric actions of the army to his king, he and his friends — Little John (Kevin Durand), Will Scarlet (Scott Grimes) and Allan A’Dayle (Alan Doyle) — are put in stocks. When the opportunity presents itself for escape, Robin and his mates take off and search for refuge. In the course of that quest they come upon the dying knight Robin of Loxley. In order to get home, Longstride and his friends steal the armor and identities of the fallen men.
Once home in England, they find a country in ruin and on the brink of civil war. The taxation angle of the Robin Hood tale always works, and in Scott’s version, the taxman is the vicious Godfrey, a confidant of King John and a French agent who is more than willing to slaughter his countrymen in his quest to fill the coffers of the king.
Robin will organize the landowners to save their country from unreasonable taxation and the French army, but first he must take care of the personal business that takes him to Nottingham, to return the sword of Loxley to the knight’s father, Sir Walter Loxley (Max Von Sydow). There he finds a man who becomes his father figure and a women, Marion Loxley (Cate Blanchett), who captures his heart.
Director Scott, working with a screenplay by Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential), presents the epic battle scenes he does so well, and as a master storyteller, he imbues this tale of Robin Hood with grime and grit. Which is not to say that it is without humor — Friar Tuck (Mark Addy) does show up, after all, and Robin’s not-quite-merry men engage in life’s little pleasures with gusto and a wink when they aren’t on the battlefield. It was fun watching TV veterans Durand (Lost) and Grimes (E.R.) cavorting on the big screen. And, while we might want more of the romantic angle between Robin and Marion, Crowe and Blanchett do keep the spark glowing at a low ember.
The actor who best embraces this medieval landscape is the superb Mark Strong, a regular in the gangster films of Matthew Vaughn and Guy Ritchie, who has lately become the go-to villain in American films (Sherlock Holmes, Kick-Ass and soon in The Green Lantern). In Robin Hood he creates a lovely blend of Basil Rathbone-era evil with his own modern twist.
Scott’s Robin Hood might not be the noble hero of the earlier films, but he is a hero that modern audiences should embrace.
Directed by Ridley Scott; rated PG-13