Robin Hood

Posted on September 21, 2010 at 8:00 am

If, as the Gothic calligraphy tells us as the beginning of this film, tyrants inspire heroes, then the clear implication is that heroes inspire movies. And Robin Hood, who stole from the rich to give to the poor, has been one of the most frequently portrayed on screen over the course of the last century, beginning with a silent film in 1908 and continuing through portrayals that have included Disney animation, Mel Brooks comedy, a space-age version, a gangster version, and films with Robin as a woman, as a child, and as an old man decades after his famous adventures (played by Sean Connery at age 45, Crowe’s age when he made this film).

Pretty much, though, all versions have stuck with the idea of Robin Hood as a nobleman who valiantly defends the rights of the commoners against a corrupt prince who hopes to take over the throne and who falls in love with the beautiful Maid Marian. In this version, something of a prequel, Robin is not noble and Marian is not a maid.

The “Gladiator” director and star reunite ten years later with another story of a heroic rebel leader. Russell Crowe, looking a little more doughy than he did a decade ago in the toga, is Robin Longstride, an archer in the army of King Richard the Lionhearted who has the courage to tell the king he is wrong, landing in the stocks for his impertinence. The king is killed in battle and the knights taking his crown back to London are ambushed by Godfrey (all-purpose villain Mark Strong), a traitor close to Prince John (Oscar Isaac) but working for King Philip of France. Robin and his men pretend to be the knights so they can get back home. And he promises the dying knight whose armor he takes that he will return his sword to his father, Sir Walter Loxley, in Nottingham.

With John as the new king, Godfrey is given the authority to collect taxes from the noblemen, who have already been taxed into poverty. But Godfrey’s plan is to pillage the country so brutally that the nobility will no longer support the king, making the country more vulnerable to attack. Robin delivers the sword to Sir Walter (Max von Sydow), who asks him to stay and pretend to be his son, to help protect his land. Sir Walter’s daughter-in-law, Lady Marian (Cate Blanchett), the knight’s widow, reluctantly agrees. This puts Robin, now known as Sir Robert Loxley, in Godfrey’s path.

As you can tell from this rendition, it’s overly complicated and a lot of what we expect in a Robin Hood story is missing. But it is one thing to omit the archery competition and another to remove the key element of the story, the idea of a nobleman who fights for the commoners. While “Gladiator” did a masterful job of creating a sense of time and place, “Robin Hood” has some clanging anachronisms that take us out of the movie entirely, including some of the dialogue and a scene where von Sydow and Crowe have an Oprah-esque therapy session so that Robin can have an epiphany about his feelings for his father.

Scott and his CGI crew have put together a gorgeous and compelling re-creation of the landscape and architecture of the era, and the movie conveys the fragility of the overlay of civilization as unsettling new ideas about justice, equality, and self-determination are beginning to take hold. But the script itself has a sense of struggle behind it, with too many story lines and too little resolution. Retro elements like burning map montages to show the progress of the pogrom-like raids compete with winks to the future as scenes suggest iconic images like Joan of Arc in armor, D-Day, and the Holocaust. And the concluding scene is such a fundamental re-writing of history that we wonder whether it is not we who have been robbed.

Related Tags:


Action/Adventure Based on a book Based on a true story Epic/Historical Remake Romance

14 Replies to “Robin Hood”

  1. If you’re going to recommend comparison films, how about the Errol Flynn version? or the Disney version?

  2. Thanks, Marian! I did recommend “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” which is the Errol Flynn version and one of my all-time favorite movies, which I also picked as DVD of the week.

  3. Nell, while on vacation at Yosemite, we sat late one night listening to the Merced river rushing outside our window and watched “Robin and Marian”. Still one of MY favorite all-time romantic Robin Hood flics.
    Just hard to beat Connery and the luminous Audrey Hepburn for great acting and romance even if it was a kind of convoluted, strange telling of the legend. Love the one part of the legend they left in: Robin dying, shooting an arrow and telling Little John, “wherever it may land, lay us together there.” Wow!

  4. My favorite Robin Hood movie is the very funny Mel Brooks version. They just don’t make comedies like that anymore. It’s a shame.

  5. “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” is a great one, Vince! And like all great parodies, the better you know the original, the more you will appreciate it.

  6. Romantic is the word, Mary. It is a rare film that shows the tenderness of love between people who have lived long enough to know how precious those moments are. Many thanks.

  7. Please — not THE LION IN WINTER! TLIW is history as filtered through Jerry Springer.

  8. Thanks, Mack! None of these renditions is historically accurate — “A Man for All Seasons,” “Beckett,” even Shakespeare’s history plays are not accurate either. But if there’s a movie version of Eleanor’s story you recommend, I’d love to know what it is!

  9. I saw it, and was bored half to death.
    My friend and I actually left before it was over,
    and she used to be a big fan of Russell Crowe.
    The movie was boring and slow and tedious.

  10. I saw the movie on opening day in Michigan. It has been something of a hobby of mine since I was a boy. I am now 62 and a retired professor. I dearly wanted to like this movie as I was so very disappointed with Costner’s treatment of, well, Costner as Robin. Because of this desire, I consider myself a fairly strict critic. As such, I can say that I loved the movie. I would give it a 9 out of 10 and perhaps later, something more.
    This movie shows us an entirely new Robin, one who could easily have lived, served his King and his country, and then been punished by a jealous and vindictive ruler such as John. The movie offers a very different approach to a legend that has changed many, many times over the 700 years or so since we know of its creation. The film retains the most central characters and gives them new life, free from their cliched prisons. Is Robin dour, heavy, very serious? Please. The kingdom has been robbed of its treasure in the name of fighting foreign wars (something not unknown in our time) and is left without a generation of men. Robin is an honest and courageous man at the word of none other than Richard himself. His integrity we later trace back to a rich source and it is validated by both Walter Loxley and William Marshall.
    We see this Robin do a bit of forest shenanigans over a shipment of seed, but most of the movie is spent showing him fit into his future place in the kingdom and of his pivotal role in fighting a traitor and helping to defeat an invasion and introduce a bill of rights that was to become known as the Magna Carta.
    The battle scenes are magnificent, the costumes on a scale with any other of the great medieval epics, the sets amazing, the plot credible (more than in most Robin Hood movies), and the central characters are rich, fully developed, and fully alive.
    Robin Hood is, at its heart, a story of hope, of better days ahead, of making a difference, of coming in and saving someone and/or something, of sacrificing self for a greater good. Crowe’s Robin does all of these things. He leads a cavalry charge in time to save the village that is the home of his new love, Marion. In so doing, he saves this village from a fate such as those inflicted as for example on Soissons in 1414. He prevents innocent villagers from being trapped in a village building and burned alive.
    Robin is thus a man of integrity, courage, loyalty, self-sacrifice, vision, and skill in battle. The characters and actors are wonderful. The sets are amazing and the action is convincing and compelling. It is also done so in such an effective manner without bathing the viewer in an ocean of blood and gore. If all of this does not make for an exciting and satisfying movie, then none such movie exists.

  11. I am always glad to hear from someone who sees more in a movie than I do, Professor Apple, and I appreciate your comment very much.

  12. After the weekly gore and mangled bodies of “Bones” and “NCIS”, the violence of “Robin Hood” seemed quite civilized. After all,people do die in war,they don’t just obligingly pass out. The heroine was smart and feisty,the hero showed kindness, integrity and commitment without snarling,cursing or acting like a jerk. I prefer an admirable,hardworking hero,over an irritable,ambivalent antihero any day. Movies do tend to have only the most tenuous grasp on historical accuracy. I was crestfallen to learn that the pen ceremony in “A Beautiful Mind” was a total fabrication. And, it is apparently not at all true that Red Pollock’s parents abandoned him in life as they did in “Seabiscuit”. But,who can blame moviemakers for giving us such moving, memorable scenes?

  13. Movie-makers are like poets, in a way, because they have to find an economical and vivid way to tell the story, Pat. So dramatic license and short-cuts are to be expected. Thanks for a great comment, Pat, very thoughtful.

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