Capone calls ROBIN HOOD not all that bad…and not all that great!
Published at: May 12, 2010, 10:02 p.m. CST by Capone
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
I'm kind of over people (critics and others) who see the film world in black and white terms (unless, you know, they're talking about a B&W movie). There are so few films that come out in a given year that are so without merit that they warrant the label "suck." All of the digital ink that has been wasted on people trying to explain how terrible Iron Man 2 is or Top 5-10 lists of how it could have been better--give me a fucking break. I'm not saying it's a classic effort, but is it really so terrible that it deserves this much attention? Of course not. But here's the big secret: negativity in the extreme translates into readership.
I have literally looked someone in the face who told me they were so-so on a film then turn around a give that same film a scathing review. Why would they do that? Simple. Because being luke warm on a film doesn't grab anyone's attention. Recommending someone "Rent It" is boring. And that's a shame because most of the films I see in a given year fall into that middling zone. And while I've certainly been known to thrash on a shitty film from time to time, I try to save my venom for films that actually deserve it and not for ones that simply missed the mark. And it's these so-so works that deserve the most attention because inevitably there are some very good components to such films along side whatever shortcomings they may have, and to be fair and balanced, one should talk about the good and the bad of every film.
Does everyone's opinion have to agree with mine? Of course not. It is possible for someone to truly hate a film that most people like? Without a doubt. I'm also not here to defend or talk about Iron Man 2 today; I'm simply saying that if you see a startlingly negative headline over a film review, nine times out of 10, that's about as strong as the negative opinion gets. Pick your battles, people. Otherwise, you just look like cynical douches, and we all know that Conan O'Brien hates cynics.
Case in point, I've heard a few people railing on Ridley Scott's Robin Hood. While this is a talky, slightly overlong work that might only truly appeal to those who care about English history and British law of olden times, it still features massive battles helmed by the single-greatest large-scale action director living today. No one can hold a candle to Scott when it comes to staging warfare, and Robin Hood is proof of that--maybe not the best proof, but there you go. And with the exception of Russell Crowe, who plays the title character in a timeframe prior to the more familiar adventures that have been portrayed in films countless times, all of the performances are particularly strong and interesting. Due to his age and his apparent contempt for the material, Crowe is simply the wrong choice to play Robin Longstride, a returning Crusader under King Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston), who comes back to England with no prospects or skills beyond being a soldier.
There are issues with Brian Helgeland's script, but I don't think they are so problematic that they are the things that keeps this film from being great. And I don't mind the prequel idea of watching Robin become a protector and supplier of people under the cruel fist of England new ruler (after Richard's battlefield death) King John (Oscar Isaac). We are all familiar with the story of Robin Hood, so I didn't mind not getting it retold to me yet again. Instead, we get the story of how Robin met Marion Loxley (Cate Blanchett) and Friar Tuck (Mark Addy) and these particular Merry Men (Kevin Durand's Little John, Scott Grimes' Will Scarlet, and Alan Doyle's Allan A-Dayle). The Sheriff of Nottingham is on hand, although not nearly as terrifying as he's been portrayed in the past, and a handful of new names join the fold.
I like the idea that Robin took the name Loxley from a dead man and was asked to do so by the dead man's aging, blind father (the fantastic Max Von Sydow), who explains that the only way his son's widow, Marion, can keep the land when Max kicks it is to have it appear that his son made it home alive from the Crusades. Despite what you've seen in the trailers, King John isn't only a raging maniac intent on taxing the life out of his subjects and killing anyone who refuses to pay. That's close to what he is, but there's a bit more. He's cunning and smart enough to know when to keep quiet when he senses the crowd is turning against him. It's nice to have a filmmaker decide to have a classic movie villain at the heart of his film without making him an idiot, driven purely by emotion. King John is capable of looking at the long term. He also knows how to make promises to calm the storm against him, even if he has no intention of keeping them. There's a complexity to him that surprised me and I found refreshing.
Blanchett is probably the best thing in Robin Hood., but that statement is almost without meaning since Blanchett is usually the best thing in any movie she's in. There's a bitterness about her character's station in life that I'm guessing many women felt at the time. Marion barely knew her husband before he left to fight, so news of his death doesn't crush her. But she's also very much devoted to his family and will do what she had to to protect them. Unfortunately, Blanchett is also at the center of one of the worst scenes in the movie involving her joining the climactic battle between French and English forces. I didn't buy it, and there's absolutely nothing leading up to that moment that would lead us to believe Marion would try anything resembling what she does in this movie. Her charging into battle feels like Scott & Co. trying way too hard to entice women to see this movie. Just tell the story and stop worrying so damn much about the demographics of your audience.
One of the more interesting new characters is Godfrey, played by the tremendous Mark Strong. Why Strong isn't one of the biggest names in movies is beyond me. Between this film, Kick-Ass, Sherlock Holmes and upcoming turns in John Carter of Mars and Green Lantern (he's Sinestro), he probably will be soon. Godfrey is an Englishman who has essentially sold his soul to the French, and is leading brigades of French killers across the English countryside, paving the way for the armada invasion. Godfrey is perhaps the character I was most curious about, simply because of his duplicity, and Strong adds depth and soul to a man that could have easily been played one dimensionally by another actor.
So do we get to see Robin shoot some arrows? You bet, and as I said early on, the action sequences are perfection. Scott keeps in mind something very important when he directs these sequences: he makes sure the geography of the battle is clear--who is surrounding or outflanking who, who has who outnumbered, what is the terrain. These things are always clear and they make all the difference. And I still love watching hundreds of arrows go in the air at the same time; can't help it. There are some spectacular arrow death moments, and I tended to look forward to those far more than death by boring old sword. Is there some stealing from the rich, giving to the poor activity? A little, but that really doesn't kick in until the years that come after the events shown in Robin Hood. This film is about the birth of a legend. Ridley Scott loves his history, and I'm sure there are all kinds of references to real-life people and events. But the true test is whether those moments feel real to the audience, and most of what we see here does (Marion charging into battle does not, by the way).
And while mediocrity is nothing to aim for, Ridley Scott's Robin Hood is rip-roaringly mediocre, bordering on tedious. There's a great deal to enjoy here both in the performances and storytelling, but in the end, what comes together is wildly uneven. And when you're talking about a film that clocks in around two hours and 20 minutes, uneven and tedious are not a good things to be. All of this being said, I'm guessing that Scott has got a better, R-rated version of this film saved up for a DVD release down the road, and based on the vast improvements I saw in the extended Kingdom of Heaven cut, I look forward to seeing what a longer Robin Hood has in store. The theatrical release simply misses the mark, but not enough to dismiss it entirely. Some of what Scott accomplishes with Robin Hood is quite good, just not enough of it.
And now, I prepare to suffer your slings and arrows of outrageous comments. Have at thee...
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