Saturday, May 15, 2010

Robin Hood - Rise of the Lion


Ridley Scott's Robin is grand, epic, authentic - what more do you want - by Nick van der Leek

In the same way that Mel Gibson's bloody Passion of the Christ is celebrated today as the ultimate Jesus flick, Ridley Scott's Robin [Russell Crowe] hits the pupil in the bull's eye better than any other Robin has thus far, or probably ever will.

Well, unless Ridley Scott makes a sequel.  If that seems unlikely, consider that he is currently at work on the prequel to Alien - have stranger or more exciting things happened?  Perhaps only in the woods around Nottingham.

Despite disparaging reviews by the perpetually cynical, like A.O. Scott, Ormdorf and Ebert [the last calls the 2010 Robin 'a weary retread of...muscular macho slaughterers'], you'll be happy and relieved to hear that no, Ridley didn't have a stroke during the making of this film. He delivers would you'd expect a legend like Ridley Scott to deliver - an authentic, almost perfect masterpiece.

The aforementioned reviewers may not remember that Ridley Scott made cinema history with the likes of Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma & Louise, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, Body of Lies and American Gangster [with Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe]. Scott seems to enjoy working with Crowe - Robin Hood is their fourth collaboration.

 Now I don't know about you, but I fancy that Scott sees a lot of himself in Crowe.  Hell they have the same unshaven look half the time.  That said, Crowe is a fine actor, and in Robin Hood he does well.  Some may whine about Robin wearing armor, or Maid Marion [the seminal Cate Blanchett] rushing into a major battle but compared to the sort of fare that most directors put into their flicks, Robin Hood serves up a decent story, from an unusual perspective, and with so much realism, you can smell the wood for its trees.  If nothing else, Scott re-creates the Olde England of the 12th Century, when kings had names like Richard the Lionheart.  Some of the sweeps Scott does of the Thames and London are vivid and clear enough to fully maintain the flint and fibre of those times.

I've heard some bitching on the wires because this incarnation of Robin doesn't conform to the iconic 'robs from the rich to give to the poor'.  Yep, it doesn't. Get over it. This is really the formative story of Robin; how he came to be Robin.  Some moan that they find this boring - I didn't. And strictly speaking, Robin does make a bold statement about rich vs poor in front of a crowd of men at one point, just when he has realised his destiny.  He appeals to the King for the first time that they not be enslaved by taxes and so on.  Look, if you'd prefer a prancing Robin who spends your movie ticket running around the woods all day doing various tricks with a bow and arrow [perhaps shooting a volley whilst doing a backwards somersault] you could try that - I'm not sure how much meat and potatoes story is there that hasn't already been told.  Or you might moan that you want a Robin that's more, well, Cinema-according-to-Kevin-Costner, smeared with sentiment, where the entire flick serves to portray our hero as increasingly handsome and worth having a relationship with, the heroine as not only appropriate to the hero but also ravishingly beautiful, and intended to culminate in an entirely unexpected wedding across the river in Happily-Ever-After-Land.  If that's the case you might quibble with what Scott used in his quiver, and maybe you're better off ordering something with Errol Flynn in it off 

As for me, I loved it.  Grand.  Epic. Authentic.  I found Blanchett's restrained but graceful performance playing off Crowe's characteristic understated stoicism, strengthens and supports the distilled wit of this epic.  Bald baddie Mark Strong (Sir Godfrey) provides a salient anti-hero, fatso Mark Addy (Friar Tuck) provides some comic relief,  and sporting a Prince-style beard,  asshole Oscar Isaac (Prince John) is the entirely hate-able English leader.  Name a few flicks based on English history and name one English King that everyone didn't consider vile - including the English themselves.  Prince John is no exception.  William Hurt adds quality to the cast, and two sideshow characters you may need a second glance to recognise are scraggly Matthew Macfadyen [Darcy, in Pride and Prejudice] and leading Robin in the opening scenes, a ginger Danny Huston [who played Stryker in Wolverine]. 

At one point, when they are returning from their crusade, Robin's sidekicks suggest that they might join him as he decides to make his way through France, to England.  Robin responds: "The more the merrier."  Another classic: "What's got sixteen legs and isn't going anywhere?" [Robin asks this of a convoy that he is about to hijack].  And the third one I can remember: The Sheriff of Nottingham [in his early career as an asshole] tells a flock under a large notice-stapled tree that Robin is henceforth a felon, and thus having informed them, asks someone for "a nail? a hammer?" so he can attach the notice to the tree.  Cue - no I won't spoil it, but you'll love it.

As usual Ridley Scott gives over a portion of the flick to designers.  The opening credits have an artfully designed scroll; instead of a Star Wars scrawl, here there's a beautiful whorlly Nottingham-shired Lord of the Rings motif.  Stay put at the end of the flick for more clever artsy fartsy stuff. 

Meanwhile, if you go to the bother of watching the flick knowing the reviews [excluding this one] were bad, you're likely to enjoy it even more, as I did.  So study the following analysis closely please...

The New York Times prequel hating A.O. Scott doesn't like this Robin, he says:
You may have heard that Robin Hood stole from the rich and gave to the poor, but that was just liberal media propaganda. This Robin is no socialist bandit practicing freelance wealth redistribution, but rather a manly libertarian rebel striking out against high taxes and a big government scheme to trample the ancient liberties of property owners and provincial nobles. Don’t tread on him! ...Who was Robin Hood? After more than two hours of flaming arrows, loud music and defiant sloganeering, it’s oddly hard to tell. 
Ormdorf calls Ridley's Robin 'flawed' then opines:

It’s a story drained of tension long ago, populated with characters known the world over, rotated every few years to refresh moviegoers on the basics of outlaw justice and moony romance.
 Roger Ebert, is even more miserable:
Little by little, title by title, innocence and joy is being drained out of the movies. What do you think of when you hear the name of Robin Hood?
I think of bows of arrows and forests.  Perhaps because I'm a photographer I can really appreciate the effort that has obviously gone into this Robin
 To give you an idea how much quality was invested into the photography - at our cinema the focus was definitely off, something you only noticed when subtitles [places and dates] were displayed.  I left the cinema to complain [based on the out of focus subtitle, not the actual footage] and then satisfied myself that everything was crystal clear - until the next subtitle appeared, slightly out of focus.

So yes, the cinematography is striking, it's memorable and moving.  If you're going to gripe about what's wrong and what doesn't match between the historical Robin and Ridley's Robin, pardon me if I ask you to go and play in the traffic.  Robin Hood is such an old story it is virtually fiction.  The same arguments were levelled against Clash of the Titans, but there the story of Perseus is really just an excuse to use a really great name for a movie [because the mythical Perseus and the movie version almost have no semblance to each other].  Not so with Robin Hood.  Ridley does obviously attempt a serious-ish interpretation, with what little information we have.  He does more by providing a canvas so real that the finer facts of the Robin mythos seem silly to fuss over.

One of the reviewers above asked, 'So who the hell is Robin Hood?' Good question. Russell Crowe presents a character who presents exactly this question to us, and asks us to ask the same question ourselves.  Who exactly was Robin Hood?  Obviously, no man alive today can say.  But what we can do is recreate his world as accurately as we can and put in it a man with his own private ideas and aspirations, a man with a bow who through exceptional circumstances within a vivid context, was called to action.  It's left to us do something that is perhaps beyond the faculties of some audiences - think about who Robin was.  And who we can be.

Score: 8.5/10

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