I must confess I did not have high expectations for this film at all. Perhaps it is because I was still polluted from Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood Prince of Thieves (1991)—the rigidly formulaic tale of this tired story.
Be that as it may, once again Ridley Scott hit me for a six with his version of the Hood legend by providing a back-story to the traditional tale with the movie ending just as Robin begins his career as an outlaw.
The movie starts on the battlefield where Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) is an archer in King Richard the Lionheart’s army. Following a successful day of battle, Robin unwinds with his compatriots Will Scarlet (Scott Grimes), Allan A’Dayle (Alan Doyle) and Little John (Kevin Durand) but they manage to land in the stocks and are forced to sit out the next day’s battle. A battle where the King catches an arrow in the throat with his last request to return his crown to England. Robin and his men are freed from the stocks by a young boy to return home. All the while, the King Phillip of France plans to conquer England by enlisting the help of Sir Godfrey (Mark Strong). Godfrey, a traitorous Englishman with a French connection ambushes the Royal Guard. Robin and his men happen upon the ambush as it occurs and fight back, killing many while Godfrey escapes. Robin goes to Sir Robert Loxley whose last wish is for his sword to be returned to his father. The film then follows Robin as he returns to Loxley’s home of Nottingham with the impending French attack looking over England’s shoulder.
Robin then takes over the role of the dead Sir Robert Loxley in order to prevent land and other estates being turned over to the crown for lack of an heir. He also has the bonus of a ready-made wife Maid Marion—who needs some lessons on how to curtsy a lost art. As Robin begins with the charade he ends up filling the role of the real nobility quite well oozing Noblesse Oblige as the story progresses. Eventually there is a showdown between England and France and the mortal enemies made along the way. The movie also provides a bit of Girl Power in that Maid Marion dresses in full armor and fights in the last battle.
While a tired story, this film solidifies my perception of Ridley Scott as one of the premier period piece film makers of all time. Scott having already made Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven and of course Blackhawk Down, he continues to show us his cinematic eye. Each shot has such an authenticity that the audience can nearly smell the grimy earthiness of old England. Then Scott stages action scenes amongst this terrain. This may not be your mom’s Robin Hood, but it is the most exciting.
Naturally the film suffers from a lackluster story and nearly non-existent character development but is not a waste. Shot in such a way that suggests a true understanding of the period, the film keeps your eyes interested.
Also it was good to see William Hurt on the silver screen again.