Director: Ridley Scott Cast: Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Max Von Sydow, Mark Strong, William Hurt
When Richard the Lionheart is killed in battle, Robin Longstride and his band of weary men break away from the army and head straight for the coast. On route they witness the King’s second-in-command, Robert Loxley, being ambushed by a gang of French troops lead by a treacherous British courtier, Godfrey. After rescuing the crown and sneaking back to England to break the bad news, Robin decides to fulfil Loxley’s dying wish by returning his father’s sword to their family seat in Nottingham.
Loxley’s father begs Robin to stay, explaining that if anybody finds out his son has died, they will lose their land and find themselves at the mercy of the Sheriff. Robin agrees to masquerade as Loxley, an idea that Loxley’s wife, Marion, is not immediately attracted to. Gradually, as Robin helps to rebuild their shattered community, Marion comes to appreciate him; but trouble is stirring in London, as Godfrey worms his way into a position of power in King John’s court. Godfrey intentionally stirs up a civil war with the Northern Barons so that the English army will be distracted while his friend, Prince Phillip of France, invades from the South. And so the stage is set for Robin Hood to fulfil his heroic destiny; saving the woman he loves, and rescuing his noble countrymen from the greedy hands of tyranny.
If this all sounds slightly formulaic and emotionless… then I have pitched the story perfectly! Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe must have known, when they teamed up to make another historical epic about an outlawed warrior, that there would be an avalanche of comparisons to their genre-defining millennial smash hit Gladiator. All the masterful conveyance of tone and the eye-watering ferocity of the action sequences are recreated here in the forests and beaches of 12th Century England (although not much has matured or developed over the past decade); but there is simply no emotional heart here, and the absence is made all the more disappointing when compared to the guttural tragedy at the heart of Gladiator.
As the global film community stumbles helplessly into the vortex of 3-D and all the other gluttonous vices that technology offers, there is something admirable about a summer ‘blockbuster’ that values small-scale fight sequences and realistic locations. Scott’s film is certainly a timely reminder that mere humans – without the shortcuts of CGI – can still make visceral and epic films that astound the senses.
Anyone hoping for an Errol Flynn throwback will be shocked and even terrified by this gruelling, bloody film. The feathered caps and bright tights of old are replaced by muddy, sweaty chainmail; and the gay old ‘Merry Men’ have given way to a band of outlawed, highly-skilled warriors returning home from war to a country they barely recognise. There is no denying that the ‘look’ of the film is masterful; but we have moved on from Gladiator, and all the integrity in the world cannot make up for the fact that this film is as damp and calcified as the cliffs that overlook the films fast-paced climax.
The acting is average; but when the acting is ‘average’ in a film with a cast like this, you know something is wrong. Poor performances have become a Ridley Scott trope as he tumbles into his winter years. He seems to have grown tired – or scared – of the questioning glances of his desperately confused actors; preferring instead to fawn over the stuntmen and choreographers that will garner him praise for his mastery of ‘action sequences’. The cast is enviable, and every one of them wasted.
The accents forced out by these A-list actors are cringe-worthy if you aren’t taking the film seriously, and downright distracting if you are. Crowe’s ear for dialects is usually impeccable, but here he sways maniacally between a leering Liverpudlian longshoreman (I hate alliteration, but I like that image), a timid Mancunian farmhand, and a gruff Berkshire nobleman. And yet, despite this inconsistent mash of identities, you spend the entire film constantly reminding yourself that this isn’t Maximus Decimus Meridius and he isn’t father to a murdered son or husband to a murdered wife. Cate Blanchett, Max Von Sydow, and William Hurt follow suit, so that the question that begs to be asked is surely, “couldn’t you have cast ONE English actor in a leading role?”
All things considered, there will be much worse films than this released throughout the summer. Ridley Scott is still a master of tightly edited action sequences; his attention to detail is enviable, and his confidence in his own ability means that we are treated to climactic battle scene with 1,000 real human beings (which is surely more evocative than 5,000,000 computer generated ones). But none of this makes up for the fact that this film lacks the powerful emotional underpinnings of it’s Roman older brother; and without a real story, no amount of colour grading can make up for the fact that this is still just the story of some men in tights.