Friday, 21 May 2010
I must protest...I am NOT a merry man!
( ^ He's not a merry man either.)
Ridley Scott's Robin Hood.
Firstly, let’s get this straight…
Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood is not a terrible film as I’d heard from some quarters. In fact some elements of it are really rather good. Unfortunately it’s not a film I found myself enjoying while I was watching it. To be honest I felt rather bored and disconnected from everything that was happening on screen. I just wasn’t pulled in to its (admittedly) well-realised world or engaged by its tangled, charmless story or its bland characters. It looked good but overall it left me cold.
What did I like about it?
Well, being a Ridley Scott film, it looks very nice indeed and is certainly a handsomely mounted production with wonderful sets, great costumes and some excellent photography. And it was quite refreshing to see a movie employing some real large-scale action – hundreds of men on horseback and real castles as opposed to thousands of CGI enhanced fighters and battles and landscapes. But, even so, like I said, this movie left me cold.
So what went wrong?
I mean...Ridley Scott, Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett with a script by the writer of LA Confidential. How could it be anything less than awesome?
Personally I found the whole thing utterly unengaging and unnecessary. The story it was trying to tell I thought was convoluted and kinda dull. At its core it is the bog standard hero’s journey thing we’ve seen a million times before which leads Robin to become, finally, at films end, the hero we know from legend. But it isn’t very well constructed. It just didn’t ring true to me at all. For a start I didn’t for a moment buy Crowe, a very good actor, as a proto Robin Hood. He still has his natural rough, tough charisma, but plays it too low-key and undynamic. And you never really know what kind of a bloke he is. He’s a bit roguish, pretty mercenary, but then he is also unfailingly honest and will risk his life for seemingly no gain after he’s taken the belongings of men he’s killed. I didn’t get any real sense of his character nor of a character journey to show how and why he ends up as the man he does. He (conveniently) remembers some things about his past but doesn’t seem to change or grow as a character. His actions and motivations are rather muddled and unclear with silly things happening like his afore mentioned sudden miraculous memory of his fathers once great importance. And all it took was Max Von Sydow to say “close your eyes” for him to remember all of this vital plot stuff. Huh? Stuff just happens in this film to service the plot and for little other reason.
Another big problem for me was Robin and Marion’s relationship. It felt hollow, bland, forced, a mechanical necessity to the plot rather than one of genuine feeling. Crowe and Blanchett are excellent actors, but here they both just about managed to be solid. Part of the problem is that, when together, they have absolutely no onscreen chemistry so you don’t buy in to what is one of the central pillars of this story.
And as for the so-called merry men…
What a ragged and utterly forgettable bunch including a couple of North American actors who plainly had no idea where these guys were supposed to hail from.
Which brings me to all those accents.
The range of bizarre and awful accents in Robin Hood is one of the most entertaining (for all the wrong reasons) things about it.
And another reason why I didn’t enjoy Robin Hood was this. The whole enterprise was seriously lacking a sense of humour or any sense of fun. What little humour there was came off as mostly forced or just plain lame. Mark Addy as a bee keeping comic relief Friar Tuck was hopeless and simply not funny. None of them were. I don’t think I laughed or broke a smile once in this film.
So what's left?
Well, at least the film’s action and battles were pretty decent. The opening castle siege stuff was pretty good and suitably grubby and noisy. The French attack on Nottingham was very good and by far the best sequence in the movie. And the end beach invasion battle was pretty darn good too, playing like a medieval Saving Private Ryan…only with the heroes defending the beach. I liked how its scale was big but not overly so. This is pretty good stuff.
Dang it all, Marion suddenly turns up with a bunch of kids!
And then she has to be saved by Robin!
I suppose you could argue that it would have been good for her to arrive and then kill Mark Strong as it was he who killed old Man Locksley whom Marion was very close to. But she doesn’t kill Mark Strong. Robin does. Marion turns up and then fairly quickly has to be saved by Robin. That is her sole role in this battle. Now, just think back to the awesome Return of the King. Eowyn fights and defeats the main henchman – the Witch King. For story, character and theme this was a HUGE moment…and one of the greatest “YEAH!” moments in modern cinema. She was an integral part of that battle. What the hell was the point of Marion in the battle at the end of Robin Hood? Did the gaggle of woodland kids she brought with her really make a difference against a major French invasion force? Puh-lease!
For most of Robin Hood’s running time I was teetering on the edge of boredom. I’m all for reinventing old heroes and looking for new takes on old tales. But if you have nothing actually new or interesting to bring to the table, then why bother? The original concept of this film did sound like an original take on the legend. Robin Hood was the villain and the Sheriff the hero with both roles to be played by the same actor. A meditation on duality, about how point of view can determine who is a hero and who is a villain. The one mans terrorist is another mans freedom fighter thing. But the film we actually got, to me, felt immediately redundant. It was overly serious, po-faced and unengaging. It was so determined to show us 12th century politics and the grim life back then that it missed out on showing its audience (or me at any rate) a good time. This is no Gladiator. Gladiator succeeded due to its grand sweep and the real dramatic, mythic weight it carried with it, along with the sterling acting from all involved. It also provided its hero with a clear journey and clear motivations. You cared about Maximus and his plight, about what was done to him, about the obstacles he had to overcome to achieve his goals. You cared about the friendships and relationships in the film, the themes of honour and love and friendship and family. They all shone. They all had weight. Nothing in Robin Hood had any real weight.
Sorry Rid and Russ, for all its faults I’ll take Costner and Rickman in the daft pantomime of Prince of Thieves any day. But above all I’ll mostly stick with the classic Robin of Sherwood TV series as the definitive take on the Hooded Man. 2/5