Robin Hood, 2010.
Directed by Ridley Scott.
Starring Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Matthew Macfadyen, Mark Strong, William Hurt and Max von Sydow.
At the end of the 12th century, common archer Robin Hood makes his way back to England from fighting in King Richard’s crusades in France, only to become involved in another battle, this time to save England from a French invasion.
Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe’s latest collaboration, Robin Hood, is an interesting beast. It’s an origins story of sorts, telling of how Robin came to be known as an outlaw, yet also a historical drama, painting a picture of Britain in turmoil at the end of the 12th century. Rather than focusing solely on Russell Crowe’s hero, the film is more of an ensemble piece, taking in a large cast of characters including kings, knights, outlaws, and saboteurs.
Watching it for the first time, Robin Hood feels more complicated than it actually is – mainly because of this vast array of narratives that are all struggling for screen time. At the start of the film, Ridley Scott cuts between a group of orphan children stealing grain from the Loxley household in Nottingham (which includes Cate Blanchett’s Lady Marion and Max von Sydow’s Sir Walter), scenes setting up these characters and the people of Nottingham, King Richard’s assault on a French castle, Robin’s journey back from France, another group of Knights travelling back from France, the inept would-be-king John at odds with his mother, and a traitorous man with links to the English throne making a pact with the French King. Because of this, the film struggles to define its protagonists and develop a clear focus early on. It ends up feeling muddled and the pacing is slow, taking what seems like an age to reach a point where each character has been well enough defined to carry the plot forward.
In addition to this, Ridley Scott seems determined to not spell anything out explicitly; leaving the viewer to decipher lines of mumbled dialogue and assess what may or may not become significant later on. To an extent this work’s in Robin Hood’s favour, offering up a big summer movie that avoids the patronising hand-holding that contemporary blockbusters are often full of – Avatar is particularly guilty of this. It’s just that, at times, Robin Hood seems to need a little more focus to ensure the viewer doesn’t get lost or bored.
Despite these criticisms, when the film starts to come together (around half way in) it works really well. The multiple narrative strands begin to converge and the character building that went before gains significance. The film reaches a crescendo as Robin becomes the hero that he’s known as. In the two lengthy battle scenes that end the film, Ridley Scott really shows his flair as a director – the action is intense, exciting and brutal. A cast of hundreds of men and horses battling away on a beach, with waves crashing against the shore, is hugely impressive; a massive technical undertaking that is as exciting to watch as anything seen in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Ridley Scott also manages to retain a real sense of time and space, something that lesser action directors often struggle with – it’s easy to recall the mess of fast editing and extreme close-ups that Michael Bay usually produces.
Robin Hood isn’t for everyone – those acclimatised to the fast pace and straightforward plots of modern blockbusters may find themselves looking at their watches. If you’re willing to put the time in though (at 140 minutes it’s a long film) you’ll find a rewarding experience that contains some spectacular action scenes and – by focusing on the years before he became an outlaw – offers a new perspective on the legend of Robin Hood.
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