Arts and Culture

'Robin Hood'

Gladiator meets Friar Tuck, and did Monty Python touch up this script?

By Steve Burgess 14 May 2010 |

Steve Burgess writes about film for The Tyee every other Friday.

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Russell Crowe: 'as merry as he can.'

For a place supposedly about dreams and fantasy, Hollywood certainly lacks imagination. Decade after decade the same familiar tales are dredged up and recycled, few more often than the story of Robin Hood. The latest iteration of the Sherwood Forest yarn arrives today from director Ridley Scott and his heroic muse, Russell Crowe. Scott's new epic also seems intent on recycling another cinematic product, one that put Crowe in sandals and a skirt back in 2000. Alas, Robin Hood is no Gladiator -- although not for lack of trying.

Credit where due -- Scott and screenwriter Brian Helgeland have certainly done their best to reinvent the story. So much reinvention in fact that the very name barely fits. There is just a solitary reference to one "Robin of the Hood" in the final minutes of the film, a quick nod to the whole rob-from-the-rich (in this case, the Church), give-to-the-poor theme, and only a bit part for that old villain, the Sheriff of Nottingham. This time out, the story is more about English politics circa 1199 AD. And a mightily complicated stew it is.

Crowe plays Robin Longstride, a Crusader fighting in Europe with King Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston). After the King's untimely death Robin and friends happen upon an ambush in the woods and manage to rescue the dead king's crown. Longstride makes a promise to a dying knight that he will carry a sword back home to the man's father. The dying man is one Robin of Loxsley (Douglas Hodge). In order to complete the delivery of the crown, Longstride becomes Loxsley, an identity he will soon find hard to shake.

Rob from the last epic...

Seem complicated? Naw, that's the easy part. The complicated stuff involves the new King John (Oscar Isaac), his right-hand man Godfrey (Mark Strong), former King's counselor William Marshal (William Hurt), and Godfrey's secret pact with King Phillip of France (uncredited for some reason -- perhaps because the French come off looking as disagreeable here as in Monty Python and the Holy Grail). Scott and Helgeland rewrite a lot of European history to add in a French conspiracy as well as a Robin Hood connection to the creation of Magna Carta. But then, Scott reshaped ancient history to bring back the Roman republic in Gladiator. Historical scholars don't buy much popcorn.

Parallels to that Oscar-winning smash are easy to find in Robin Hood. Crowe's Robin is Maximus revisited. For the sensuous, corrupt, incompetent emperor Commodus, substitute King John. Want a Marcus Aurelius? You have your choice of Aureliei -- either Huston's King Richard, or Max Von Sydow looking exceedingly Richard Harris-like as Sir Walter Loxley. Even Cate Blanchett's Maid Marion might remind you of Lucilla, the Roman emperor's sister. There's even a repeat of the Gladiator scene where someone throws Robin a sword as he gallops past. Recycling, or tribute?

...give lines that are poor

When it's not reminding you of Gladiator, Robin Hood brings to mind Helgeland's 2001 film A Knight's Tale. No Queen hits on the soundtrack, but Mark Addy from that film is here playing Friar Tuck, and the ribald cameraderie of the Merry Men might have been lifted straight out of that earlier screenplay.

A Knight's Tale brought an entertainingly modern sensibility to the Middle Ages. Robin Hood does the same, not quite so playfully. There are all sorts of anachronistic attitudes on display concerning religious sensibilities, the morality of war, and personal hygiene. Perhaps the most unfortunate innovation is the apparent need to empower Marion by making her an honest-to-goodness Xena the Warrior Princess. It leads to the single most cringe-worthy moment of the film, as an armored-and-helmeted Marion snarls: "This one's for you, Walt."

Another amusing line: Robin's insistence that the principles of Magna Carta include a man's right to be "as merry as he can." It's "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," as written by Friar Tuck.

Actually there are no direct references to the "merry men" here, and that's telling. Merry, this version isn't -- more like muddled and grim. The confusing plot drains away any sense of moral outrage as the good guys end up allying with some of the bad guys to fight another group of bad guys in a very chaotic beach battle (watch for the medieval landing craft -- just like D-Day, but wooden). It's hard to care much.

All the same, the screenplay suggests that this is just the beginning of a franchise. If so, I hope Robin and his men fight the Romans next time, or the Nazis. What's a little historical revisionism when there's summertime money to be made?  [Tyee]

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