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Robin Hood

Directed by Ridley Scott with Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Max von Sydow, William Hurt, Mark Strong, John Oscar Isaac, Danny Huston, color, 140 minutes, 2010

Russell Crowe as Robin Hood

By Carter B. Horsley

Ridley Scott's 2010 epic, "Robin Hood," is flawed but it flounts its virtuosity vigorously and is a startlingly glorious film to watch, especially the mind-bogglingly beautiful painted animated titles at the end.

Its two main stars, Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett, are sly and full of surprises and marvelous.  Crowe, who starred in Scott's "Gladiator," is surly and smelly as Robin.  Blanchett is a sexy, foxy chick as Lady Marian and is easily more than a fair match for Robin.  Indeed, her character seems to have come from the Bette Davis "All About Eve" rough night mold with a pinch of Katherine Hepburn's "Adam and Eve" insouciance and Barbara Stanwyck's "Double Indemnity" toughness.  

There is a lot going on here to confound movie-goers weened on the deering-do of Errol Flynn in the 1939 version of "Robin Hood."  This film is that movie's "prequel," in that it tells the tale of how Robin Hood became an "outlaw" in Sherwood Forest and a very complex tale it is.

This film, which opened the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, must be seen on a big movie theater screen for the detail of its razor sharp resolution is fantastic and has the wondrous effect of very good pseudo-3D in many scenes. There are two big scenes that are stupendously exciting and visually spectacular, an attack on a very large castle and the French invasion of a long beach with very high white cliffs.  The cinematography is superb.  One crepuscular landscape scene in particular is gray silver and its tonalism is worthy of a painting by Edward Steichen.  At the same time, it should be noted, the cinematography examines every pore on Blanchett's face in total contempt for rosy-fingered, gauze-filtered yesterdays of Hollywood's make-up artistry.

Much has been made, correctly, on the Internet of the absurdity of Lady Marian's leading a pack of runaway children in full armor in the final battle scene and it's quite disconcerting for some of the most famous characters in the Robin Hood legend such as Friar Tuck and Little John to be so at odds with their own established legends.  Interestingly, many commenters on the Web are quite critical of this "prequel" but are looking forward with anticipation to its possible sequel, a Ridley Scott rendition of the Robin Hood we all know and love pole-dueling on a log with Little John in the forest in his green outfit.

The only problem with that is Russell Crowe is quite old already in this film so how much prancing about he could do in any sequel is up for question.  Same thing for Kate.

In her May 11, 2010 review in the Village Voice, Karina Longworth noted that the moved was announced in 2007 with the titled "Nottingham" and "reports suggested that it would sympathize with the normally vilified Sheriff of Nottingham as a man torn between two extremes: the corrupt tax-happy monarchy, and Robin Hood himself" and "Scott told MTV News that his frequent leading man would play both the famed outlaw and his lawman rival, to better reveal the affinities between the two."

Fortunately, that plan was scrapped and in the final version of Scott's film the sheriff's role is minimized.  There are other juicy roles, namely, a villain named Godfrey played with considerable all-business panache by Mark Strong, Walter Loxley, the father of Robin Hood, played with convincing grace and authority by Max von Sydow, and William Marshall, a stalwart supporter of the realm, played with quiet reserve by a bearded William Hurt.

As the story begins, Robin Longstride, an archer, is returning from a pillaging crusade with Richard the Lion-Hearted but he and a small band get in trouble and flee only to come to the rescue of Richard when he is attacked.  Richard dies but one of his loyal knights, Robin Loxley, begs Robin as he is dying to take his sword to his father back home.  Robin agrees and also takes the king's crown back to England assuming the dead knight's name.  He presents the crown to Richard's younger brother, played with swarmy gusto by Oscar Isaac, who says he should be rewarded but when he learns his name says his family owes taxes.  Against the advice of his few hearty followers, Robin decides not to flee but to go ahead with his charade and return the sword to the elder Loxley who is attended by Lady Marian, who thinks she is a widow.  The elder Loxley convinces Robin to stay and keep on with the pretense that he is his son and furthermore become Lady Marian's husband.  She is not amused but acquiesces to the elder Loxley's request.  Robin does not sleep in her bed but with dogs by the fire but when he retrieves the grain that had been taken by the tax collectors Lady Marian begins to warm to him.

Robin joins sides with William Marshall who leads a group organizing to produce the Magna Carta proclaiming civil rights for Engish people but challenging the authority of the weak king now faced with war with France.

Robin and William and Lady Marian send the invading French troops backing in the great battle  scene in which the French storm the beach with "Saving Private Ryan" troop carriers much to the scorn of many on the Internet.  The scorn is justified but the photography is wonderful nonetheless.

King John, however, proves to be a cad as he decides at the last minute not to sign the important document and declares Robin an "outlaw."  

Despite its faults, the photography is thrilling, the leads are very fine and interesting and the final credits are the best in movie history and worth the price of admission.

This film ranks 142nd in Carter B. Horsley's Top 500 Sound Films

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