Review: 'Robin Hood'

Review: ‘Robin Hood’

On paper, Robin Hood appears to have it all: an amazing cast, beautiful costumes, spectacular set pieces, meticulously choreographed fight scenes, and a beloved protagonist. Yet somehow, I found the movie stultifying. It’s dull, complicated, and waaaaay too long.

Essentially, this serves as an origin story for Robin Hood. Russell Crowe stars as Robin Longstride, an archer fighting with King Richard (Danny Huston), who stumbles into a sequence of events that ultimately result in him being condemned and banished as an outlaw.

I was rooting for this Robin Hood retelling: after all, my last name is Hood, and I have had such a life-long affinity for the character that at my wedding reception my father made a toast about me finally meeting my Robin. I have been trying to pin down exactly why this movie just didn’t do it for me, and I offer you the following observations:

We all know the original story, but director Ridley Scott’s take is more of a historical drama. Admittedly, Scott has an astute eye for detail. That’s admirable, but most of us associate Robin Hood (the character) with swash-buckling heroics and swoon-worthy romance, not body odor and grimey fingernails. In the opening sequence, do we really need to see Robin playing parlor games? Of course not.

A convoluted plot. For the first forty-five minutes or so, I frantically took notes, then I gave up. Every five minutes, the location changed-from France, to London, to Nottingham, and numerous other locals. If I am taking notes, and have no clue what is going on, do you really think the casual movie goer will understand what is going on? I’m all for an intelligent movie plot, but I shouldn’t have to sketch out a story-line to understand what is going on.

Cryptic dialogue. I have a (very) shameful problem with British accents, and I own it, but if you know an audience might struggle with the dialogue, why would you complicate things further? Max Von Sydow, I love you, but I don’t have a clue what you said at any point in the movie. Fellow critics who are not hindered by normal British accents also expressed frustration with understanding his dialogue.

I know that Von Sydow was trying to convey the slang o’ the times, but I don’t speak “Ye old English”. Could you throw a bone to some of us auditorily challenged, and provide subtitles? It would have really helped, particularly since the movie was so complicated.

Steven Spielberg already did a beach-invasion scene, in Saving Private Ryan. That scene was so iconic that it should never be attempted again. It is impossible to watch the French Army approach the beach of England in this movie without comparing it to the legendary Normandy beach scene from Saving Private Ryan. The underwater scenes are eerily similar. For shame, Ridley Scott, for shame.

There is such a thing as over-doing it with the action. The action sequences are beautifully shot, feature cool weaponry, choreography, and horseback riding, but ultimately it becomes boring, because they go on for far too long. Since everyone is in armor and you can’t tell a lot of people apart, this becomes old very quickly. Sensory overload makes me shut down and become disengaged.

That being said, I am very torn on the movie, because technically it is very polished. I appreciate that Scott did pay such attention to all the detail and the fight scenes are remarkable, but through much of the first half I felt I was watching a documentary about life in the 12th Century. The minutiae of the every day life of the villagers hinders the pacing, and ultimately I felt like I had to trudge through a lot of junk to get to the good stuff.

A bright spot was the casting of Cate Blanchett as Maid Marion. Even with scant make-up and dowdy clothing she is just luminous. She plays Marion as a feisty and empowered woman, when she easily could have been portrayed as the typical damsel in distress. Russell Crowe is fine as Robin, though he seems a little dour for the role. I recognize that Scott was intentionally taking this character in a new direction, I’m just not sure that I cared for it.

Mark Strong, William Hurt, Kevin Durand, Scott Grimes, Oscar Isaac, Eileen Atkins, and Danny Huston join Crowe, Blanchett, and Von Sydow in a strong ensemble cast. Unfortunately, their collective talent cannot rise above the plodding screenplay, written by Brian Helgeland (Mystic River, Green Zone, L.A. Confidential).

By the time the movie was finally over, I felt like my kids had grown up, gotten married, and had children of their own while I sat in the theater. Imagine my horror when the words “And So The Legend Begins…” appeared on screen. Wait, you mean there is going to be more? Please, God, no. I felt like I had just earned a medal by trudging through the film-sequels don’t seem all that enticing right now.

Seriously, though, the movie is truly beautiful. I wish it had not been such a meandering mess, and I am not sure it is worth sorting through that mess to get a glimpse of the good stuff.