In Ridley Scott's Robin Hood, Mark Strong shines as Sir Godfrey, a refreshingly worthy adversary for Russell Crowe.
The orphan who became a soldier. The soldier who became a knight. The knight who defied a king. Sound familiar? Indeed, I loved Robin Hood the first time I saw it: when it was called Gladiator. Count me among the chorus of not-so-merry film critics whose pens ran dry while cataloguing the similarities between the two most famous Russell Crowe - Ridley Scott collaborations (this is actually the fifth). Then again, count me among those who were pleased to witness the resurrection of Maximus for the next best thing to a sequel.
Set in “ye olden days” when France and England had a common currency – gold – Robin Hood introduces the legendary outlaw (Crowe) as Robin Longstride, a lowly archer in Richard the Lionheart's army, which is sacking one last château on the way home from Palestine. As in Gladiator, the audience is treated to a detailed, epic display of the military tactics of yore, totally medieval this time around: platoon-sized moving shields, boiling oil, and battering rams galore.
During the ensuing victory celebration, we are introduced to the men who will eventually become Robin’s companions in Sherwood Forest, including the “Little John” (Kevin Durand), Will Scarlet (Scott Grimes) and Allan A'Dayle (Alan Doyle). Anything but merry in battle, the trio does provide some brief moments of levity, including an inspired sendup of Mr. Crowe's John Nash in A Beautiful Mind.
Before Brian Helgeland’s script moves into history-altering events, it's important to remember that Robin Hood is a fictional character whose romance with Maid Marion was no more real than Harry Flashman's fling with Lola Montez. By the way, it's Lady Marion now.
Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) leads his not-so-merry men into battle.
Playing a character who has reached womanhood before the invention of more flattering period costumes, Ms. Blanchett's Marion is a strong widow with 5,000 acres who, seeing her family’s legacy threatened by the foolish decisions of men, gets her hands dirty and confronts them on terms they can understand. In an early scene of role-reversal, she lays down the rules of the house as she “unzips” Robin from his shiny, complicated outfit. Eventually, she transforms into Boba Fett on horseback.
With a few exceptions, Robin Hood’s women – all aristocrats of one sort or another – appear as the fairer and smarter sex, using their brains to influence events (and each other). When the going gets rough, even the lovely Isabella of Angoulême (Léa Seydoux), the enthusiastic lover of Prince John (Oscar Isaac), puts her clothes on and tells her man to take a seat.
"I'd watch Russell Crowe fight a phone book," said one admirer.
Between its many battles, which borrow nicely from Braveheart and even Saving Private Ryan, this swashbuckling tale reveals a dark, surprisingly political backstory of how Robin Longstride became the Prince Of Thieves. Mr. Crowe delivers a solid portrayal as the strong, taciturn man of action fans have come to expect – as one of my friends told me, she’d “watch Russell Crowe fight a phone book.”
As the flag carrier of villainy, Mark Strong delivers an award-worthy performance as Godfrey, a confident strongman of questionable loyalty – he is British or French as it suits him, but he’s definitely up to no good, leaving Prince John (taking cues from the simpering, cowardly Commodus) and the Sheriff of Nottingham (Matthew Macfadyen) to ride on his chain mail coattails.
The fine supporting cast also includes a well-disguised William Hurt, whose English accent sounds, oddly, among the most English in the cast. Mark Addy brings nuance and a bit of sting to the role of Friar Tuck, and Max von Sydow is the proud-but-frail Sir Walter Loxley.
For moviegoers who were once delighted as children to watch Errol Flynn's or Walt Disney's cartoon versions of the classic steals-from-the-rich-and-gives-to-the-poor story, please note: 2010's Robin Hoodis not recommended for children. It's a rather gory war movie.
It’s hardly a spoiler to mention that Robin Hood ends quite merrily with a fine setup for a sequel. If not as Robin Hood, we can certainly expect to see Mr. Crowe draw his sword on the silver screen again soon. After all, a successful Hollywood franchise is a bit like the World Cup: It’s mostly the same players from the last time, costume changes are minimal, and the game is played by the same rules – maybe the ball is a different colour, or the action takes place on a different continent, but every few years we tune in to cheer for our heroes all the same.
UGC De Brouckere: 11:00 11:30 13:45 14:30 16:30 17:30 19:15 20:15 22:00
UGC Toison d'Or: 11:00 12:00 13:00 14:00 15:00 16:00 17:00 18:00 18:50 20:00 21:00 21:45
Kinepolis Brussels: 14:15 17:15 19:30 20:15 22:30
67% of the "Top Critics" at RottenTomatoes.com have given positive reviews of this film.
Robin Hood ("Robin des bois" in French) is rated KT/EA (children allowed) in Belgium, 12A in the UK and Ireland, and PG-13 in the United States. It contains graphic depictions of warfare, mild sexual content, and one manhood-threatening scene.
Opens Wednesday 12 May in Brussels.