You know that scene in True Lies where Schwarzenegger’s character Harry is driving around with the sleazy used car salesman, Simon played by Bill Paxton, who’s fucking Harry’s wife? And right at the peak of Simon’s monologue on how to bag horny housewives, Harry fantasized about killing him with a well placed elbow to the face? Well, same thing happened to me at the screening of Ridley Scott’s latest cinematic adventure. This little shit sitting next to me either had the attention span of a toddler, or the raging hemorrhoids of an 80 year old man. Either way, to distract himself from the rather pleasant re-imagining of the classic Robin Hood legend (or his inflamed asshole), this guy felt the need to wiggle around like a epileptic and talk at-length about how pleased he was with himself for recognizing Mark Strong as the villain from Sherlock Holmes. So much so I’m certain he would have physically patted himself on the back, had his hands not been occupied diverting his eyes from every second of dialogue-driven plot development. Of which there were many, Scott taking a fresh historical-meets-myth approach to the telling the tired old tale. Point being, I hope that teenager dies of his apparent anal affliction and spends his afterlife strapped to a forced penetration chair bolted in front of a giant screen projecting The English Patient for eternity. And I also liked Robin Hood. So let’s move on to an exclusive discussion on that, shall we…
Despite what the title may suggest, this film is a little less Prince of Thieves and a little more Prince of John (an issue Harry Knowles of Aint It Cool News really seemed to get crammed up his vagina–more on that later). This version of the tale is more about the woes of a war-torn 12th century England, unfavorable governmental hierarchy reform and the corruption they both bring. Not so much about a group a merry do-gooders in tight pants and pointy hats.
The film begins, much like the previous Kevin Costner joint, in the middle of the crusades. Only our hero, Robin Longstride (Crowe) is not a prisoner (per say) but just a lowly, yet very talented archer in the midst of King Richard the Lionheart’s crusades. Right off the bat, the name change from Loxley becomes a flag-of-change that won’t stop waving until the second act, not to mention the glaring realization that not only is Longstride not one of the Richard’s most close and loyal men, he in fact thinks very little of his King and the “godless” duties he’s had to perform while in his service. So, Robin is already a rebel in having these feelings, but then when circumstances arise for him to share his honest opinions to the man himself, he does so without shame and as such immediately became a badass in my book. And, of course, he immediately gets punished.
After a day in the stocks for his forthright insolence, Robin and his band of brother’s fortunes look up, as Richard’s plummet in death on the battlefield. Killed by a cook–a shitty way to die… Taking advantage of the disarray this event naturally causes, Longstide and his fellow rabblerousers, including Little John, Will Scarlett and some minstrel guy named Allan A’Dayle (The Rooster from the Disney version!?), go A.W.O.L. And, long set-up short, Robin ends up impersonating the dead King’s closest confidant, Sir Robin of Loxley, on an honor bound mission to return Loxley’s sword to his father and wife (Marion) in Nottingham. See where this is going? Some may say no, but I actually found it to be far less removed from the popular versions of the story than most. So, naturally, Prince John becomes King. Robin and his amigos stay in Nottingham to help out it’s people. AND a bald Mark Strong leads an army of French invaders disguised as British soldiers across the land in effort to create unrest and distrust in the newly appointed king. See? It’s just like in the more traditional versions of the tale.
So, Mark Strong, let’s discuss him first. As I mentioned a few weeks ago in my review of Kick-Ass, I am a Mark Strong fan. So imagine my surprise when he popped up in this one! To be realistic, it was quite mild, but nice just the same. Strong plays Godfrey, a scarfaced traitor and general pain in England’s ass. He, for some reason or another, has aligned himself with the king of France to conquer the United Kingdom, betraying his closest partner in tyrannical crime, Prince John (Oscar Isaac). This makes for one of the most interesting twists on the legend, as John almost becomes one of the protagonists.
Now make no mistake, he is in no-way a “good-guy”, staying faithful to the character’s traditional prickish behavior and evil acts of supreme douche-baggery. BUT the filmmakers did manage to, at times, make me feel empathetic to his various plights. I.E. Living in the shadow of a powerful brother, having to deal with an arranged marriage and a trusted friend’s betrayal, etc. A little character dichotomy for Prince John. I liked that. In fact, in a rare turn of movie going events for me, I actually ended up liking all the characters AND the actors that played them. Even Cate Blanchett, an actress who normally makes my piss boil… I didn’t see that one coming. I mean, did you see Aviator!? FUH-CK THAT SHIT.
Anyways, Oscar Isaac was heavily over-acting through much of the movie (“…OUTLAAAAW!!!”), but it really works for his role. William Hurt plays William Marshal, the King’s former, uh–something, and actually appears to have a pulse this go-around. Something I haven’t seen from him since A History Of Violence. “How do you fuck that up!?” Mark Addy (The Flintstones: Viva Rock Vegas) plays Friar Tuck, and in being a lovable looking rotund, was a fine choice. Then there are Robin’s merry men: Kevin Durand is Little John, Scott Grimes is Will Scarlet and Alan Doyle is that Rooster Minstrel guy. In short, I loved all three of these rascals. My only gripe being, I wanted to see more of them. The chemistry between the band through both thick and thin, was easily the best part of the show. Coulda used more of that. And lastly, Max von Sydow IS STILL ALIVE! And he plays Sir Walter Loxley, the real Robin Loxley’s father. Well, he’s always great despite the fact that it appears even moving his mouth causes him physical pain. Taking on the character trait of blindness from the absent character of Duncan, the man-servant, Sydow impressed me even further in participating in both a sword-fight (if you could call it that) and, if I heard correctly, a candid discussion about achieving a boner. Which reminds me…
A question to those of you who’ve seen this: Was it just me, or was there an over abundance of sexual discussion and humor in this flick? Geriatric hard-ons, “I’m gonna make you smile!”, “Short, but sweet.” What’s going on here? None of those phrases were taken out of context (considering you know the context) and this seemed odd to me. I guess it makes sense from the setting’s point of view, I mean, what else are these people going to do/talk about–farming and taxes? NO. Let’s talk about sex! Still, kinda weird…
Alright, I haven’t talked about our title character much yet, so on to the man of the 2 and a half hours: Russell Crowe.
You know, while I’m not much of a fanboy; I liked Gladiator, LA Confidential and that one where he’s a Nazi and beating up Korean people, but he’s always seemed like a one-trick stallion. To be fair, I haven’t watched his romantic comedy A Good Year, but really, can you blame me? Who the fuck wants to see that crap? So, I guess what I’m saying is, Crowe plays essentially one role, but it’s OK because he plays it really well and in my opinion he continues the old good-performance-of-a-angry-depressed-middle-aged-freight-train-of-a-man-streak as Robin Longstride.
Gone is the garishly dressed pansy Robin of the 30s and with him the doughy mullet-man of the 90s–this is Robin ’Shove A Sword Up Your Ass And An Arrow Up Your Pisshole’ Hood. And I for one enjoyed the ‘Rambo’ makeover. It’s nice for a change. It worked for Bond, it worked for Batman and even though I appear to be in the vast minority here, think it worked for the Prince of Thieves. Sure Crowe is brooding, grumpy and at times looks constipated and bored into the 9th circle of hell and depression, but that’s what I like about him. There were no disillusions going into this flick thinking that this was going to be a carousel ride through happy town. So the only complaint I’ll garner with understanding and respect as far as Russell seeming miscast is that the script was far too light in the action department for him to shine. And while I did enjoy the story and more dramatic aspects of this project, I do think it would have suited Crowe’s style and presence to be more violent and action centric. To put it another way: What do you remember more from Gladiator: #1. Crowe chopping of that guy’s head with two swords and going one-on-one with Sven-Ole Thorsen or #2. Crying over his dead wife and getting mucus on her feet? For you action fans, read that last sentence again, there were actually words AFTER I mentioned Sven.
Though one aspect of Crowe’s Robin did bug me, and it’s with his muddled back-story. I’m still not sure I understand it all correctly. Delivered late in the film (and to me, out of left field), Max von Sydow explains to Longstride the history of his (Robin’s, not von Sydow’s) father (some rando stone cutting philosopher), complete with a silly scene of Crowe closing his eyes and re-experiencing the traumatic death of his dad’s demise like a First Blood ’Nam torture flashback. Sooo, his father was a man that fought for the rights of the people by carving sentimental poetry into fountain cement? OK… I guess, but wouldn’t it have been more interesting had Robin remained enigmatic and a symbol for justice and virtue all on his ownseys? I think so. Then again, I may have been distracted by the teenage nimrod sitting next to me and missed something that actually made it all make more sense and fit better with the context.
More on the action… Fucking PG-13. Do I really need to extrapolate? Quick cuts, foggy kill shots, shaky battle cam and questionable editing from the director of Alien, Gladiator and Kingdom Of Heaven. Why? The only thing I can come up with is studio pressure. ‘Cuz there is just no way that Scott would shoot a medieval homage to Saving Private Ryan’s ’Normandy Beach’ scene if he knew in advance that it would have to be chopped to shit like it was. So, needless to say, the action was pretty fuckin’ weak, BUT, for a PG-13 (I can’t believe I’m typing this), it isn’t too bad. Though to be fair to the part of my brain that’s screaming right now for even partially accepting that rating, there’s not really a realistic need for squib explosions when men dressed in chain mail and boiled leather are struck with arrows. Plus, SPOILER Godfrey’s arrow through the throat was unexpectedly brutal. So that was nice. END SPOILER. But over-all, I think I was most forgiving of the pussification due to the fact that this film is a 90% drama. So by proxy with such little action to fuck up, there is so much more left for the dramatic, dialogue heavy scenes to compensate. And, as should be obvious by now, I rather enjoyed that other 90%.
In closing, aside from the action, the film is shot beautifully. The settings are fabulous. The score, while not being nearly as catchy as Prince Of Thieves’s (Brian Adams was not asked to reprise his role as the magic maker), it fit the gloom and doom atmosphere and I thought it blended well. The cast was well chosen, and again even though I felt the supporting members deserved more screen time, the main characters did a good enough job. And that’s pretty much my take on it all. Good, not great–not shit.
Oh, one more thing… Harry Knowles. While yes, I agree with him that the movie’s title is deceiving as this is really a pre-Hood movie (Nottingham would have been a much better choice–or perhaps Robin Hood: The Beginning) I, unlike Harry (and pretty much every other critic), didn’t see this as excuse enough to say such silly things as “FUCK HISTORY. Tell the legend of Robin Hood” … Look, if that’s all you want time and time again, The Adventures Of Robin Hood is on DVD, Harry. And not only am I sure you own it, but I’m willing to bet you didn’t have to pay for it, you bitter shit. BUT, if you’re like me and not turned off by the exclusion of bedazzled costumes, silly posturing and shockingly gay overtones, give this version a shot. It’s not so bad. Though I won’t blame you for just waiting for the director’s cut Blu-Ray with 5+ hours of Ridley Scott bitching at his crew (I know me, my wallet and my love of well edited bloody action wishes they did…)
7 outta 10