There are all types of Robin Hood fans, such as those who like the legend and historical aspects of his story. The 1922 movie version with Douglas Fairbanks was okay for its era. The 1938 classic, starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, detailed the legend with fun and frivolity. There were two shorts in 1912 and 1913 which I have not seen. From the 1950s through the 90s many versions hit theater and TV screens, including Kevin Costner’s green tights-wearing gig in the 1991 Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
Many moviegoers exiting the screening I attended made comments about their confusion concerning what they were seeing during the first part of the film. The new Robin Hood does not detail the legend of Robin Hood, for this film actually begins in the 13th Century. Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) is still a member of King Richard the Lionheart’s army as they return from the Third Crusade in the Holy Land. The story then goes through the French and English war and ends just before Longstride, aka Robin Hood, gets banished to the forest and begins a life of “borrowing” from the rich to give to the poor.
Alan Doyle, Kevin Durand, Crowe, Scott Grimes Mark Addy
Expert archer Longstride is immediately recognized as a rebel-rouser while part of Richard’s army. He and fellow fighters end up in the stocks as punishment by Richard (Danny Huston), but not for long. Once Richard is slain, Longstride orders the men to break out, and they’re off on their own agenda. This group includes Little John (Kevin Durand), Will Scarlet (Scott Grimes), minstrel Allan A’Dayle (Alan Doyle). Later on, they add Friar Tuck (Mark Addy) and come to be known as Robin’s Merry Men.
Léa Seydoux & Oscar Isaac
The English are now under the rule of King John (Oscar Isaac) who inherits the throne after his brother Richard is murdered. He’s immature, stubborn and egotistical. His taxation demands have left the country’s citizens broke and ready to rebel after the King orders his soldiers to set fire to villages and murder those who don’t obey.
Max von Sydow
It’s Longstride who reacts to this injustice. His first order of business involves returning a sword he took from the dying Sir Robert Loxley (Douglas Hodge) with a promise to go to Nottingham and return it to Robert’s father, Sir Walter Loxley (Max von Sydow). It’s in completing that task that Longstride meet’s Robert’s widow, Marion (Cate Blanchett). “Girl” he first addresses her as, and immediately she wants nothing to do with this brash warrior. Marion has maintained her village without men while also tending her now blind father-in-law Walter.
Kate Blanchett and Russell Crowe
Sir Walter senses Longstride is a good man and persuades him to pose as his returning son for various reasons. But no amount of scheming keeps the battles from forthcoming, and there are many --full of action swirled amid a plot of revenge, deceit, a small bit of merriment and a very cliché romance between Marion and Longstride.
Robin Hood takes many liberties with history, but the story is made compelling by its all-star cast. Crowe and director Ridley Scott are as effective working together as Rogers and Hammerstein – every step perfectly orchestrated. Crowe certainly earned his Academy Award for Scott’s Gladiator and has proved his ability to play versatile characters. His mystique works well as Longstride, a man who seems to be missing an important element in his life as he has little knowledge of his parents from age six on.
Russell Crowe & Ridley Scott
Crowe said about his role, “I said I’d do Robin Hood, but only if it were a fresh take…it has to be done on the basis that whatever you thought you knew about the legend was an understandable mistake...What we’ve done is to redefine the times and shift the timeline.”
Blanchett (I’m Not There), another amazing Academy Award multi-nominated (she won for her role in The Aviator) actress, embodies the strong-willed spirit of Maid Marion. However, to me, she did not fit the image we’ve come to know from the legend. I never moved past thinking she was Blanchett playing a role, so I never bought into the romance between her and Longstride.
Many other fine actors add to the enjoyment of this movie. Max von Sydow is touchingly authentic as Sir Walter. Isaac has certainly moved beyond the serine and pious Joseph in The Nativity Story, becoming the King we love to hate in Robin Hood. We also deliciously detest the double-agent Godfrey (Mark Strong), who betrays both the French and English he’s supposed to be helping. William Hurt doesn’t have many scenes as Sir William Marshal – who’s expelled from court by King John because he’s in favor of the people – but he gives us a glimpse of his marvelous talent every time. Many actors underwent intense physical training for their roles.
William Hurt Danny Huston
Robin Hood’s strength and real entertainment value come from its incredible production under the helm of production designer Arthur Max (Gladiator, American Gangster). The movie was filmed in England and Wales, and it’s interesting to note that Scott wanted a complete construction of medieval England, which included a mill with a working water wheel, a French castle and the Tower of London. John Mathieson’s (The Phantom of the Opera, Gladiator) remarkable cinematography is awesome and creates an excitement all the way through the film.
Although there’s some criticism about this movie not being true to a story based on what we know as the Robin Hood legend, viewers should remember Robin Hood was never proved to be a real person, so everything about him has always been fictional. If moviegoers realize that Brian Helgeland’s (Mystic River, L.A. Confidential) script is not based on fact, they will enjoy an adventurous and visually exciting new story.
Photo credits: Kerry Brown, David Appleby, Universal Pictures