Oh, my. Been a while, hasn't it? While I've largely moved on to different, more animated films, I recently rewatched this movie and had some thoughts about it. So... Hey, let's do this.
|Look out! Russell Crowe is going to shoot you!|
PLOT - Tonight we’re gonna party like it’s 1199. We open up at the tail end of the Crusades, and Richard the Lion Ass is wondering what people think of him, so he wanders out among his men to find one that will tell him the truth. He finds an honest man in Robin Longstride, a simple archer. The King asks Robin how people see his war, and Robin, who’s grown weary of fightin’ ’round the world, demonstrates why he’s an archer and not a king-talker-to by telling him the truth, and is pilloried for his trouble. But then the king gets shot in the neck, ah, we all have problems. Robin and his friends make a run for it, and come across a group of knights that were ambushed. Stealing their armor under the sensible assumption that knights have an easier time getting onto boats than soldiers, they make for England, planning on retiring to the country.
Whoopsie! Turns out the guy whose armor Robin stole is Robert Locksley, the king‘s BFF, and he has to return the royal crown to London to avoid suspicion, then go to Locksley’s absurdly named farm, Pepper Harrow, to settle his affairs. There, Locksley’s wife Marian actually manages to work out that her husband was killed. It’s the little things, like how Robert spoke with an English accent instead of an Australian/Irish garble, and how he wasn’t Russell Crowe. But the farm’s in trouble, and she thinks he’ll be useful to have around, so she lets him stay. Her most pressing concern is the grain. See, the Sheriff of Nottingham has seized nearly all of Pepper Harrow’s seed corn, and the church refuses to release any from its stores. With the aid of his men and the local priest, Robin steals the church’s grain, and plants it to hide his crime. And… yeah, that’s pretty much it for the Robin Hood part. I hope you like hearing about King John’s dick, because there’s about 2 hours of that sprinkled in there.
THE GOOD - Man, this movie is pretty. Seriously baller cinematography here. I don’t think I realized until now that I don’t often see really good looking movies on this blog. The cast is immensely talented. Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, and Max von Sydow do the heavy lifting, and do it incredibly well. The supporting cast is full of great character actors like Mark Strong, Mark Addy, Matthew MacFayden, Danny Houston, William Hurt, and Eileen Atkins. The MVPs, however, have to be the Merry Men. Scott Grimes as Will Scarlet, Kevin Durand as Little John, and Alan Doyle as Alan a’Dayle (yes, they changed the spelling of the name, I presume as a joke), with Addy’s Tuck joining them later. These guys just ooze camaraderie and friendship, and add much-needed levity to the film whenever they appear. Doyle in particular is great. He’s a folk musician with little acting experience, and was hired based purely on Russell Crowe liking his band. Which means I finally get an Alan who sings, and sure enough, he busts out the lute for a rowdy folk song four or five times over the course of the movie. The scene where Robin and the men (including Tuck, who befriended the three others by introducing them to mead) pull of the grain heist is excellent, and a real moment of Robin Hood amongst a sea of… well, here’s the thing:
THE BAD - Well, the movie is very long, and nothing happens in it. Well, it’s not insanely long. About 2 and a half hours. But the parts that could justifiably be called a Robin Hood story are only about 50 minutes or so. The rest is taken up with a plot that makes very little sense. See, the King of France wants pretense to invade England, so he has a loyal French knight, Godfrey, incite unrest against John by smashing up the place and collecting harsh taxes, all in John’s name. How is he able to do this with impunity? John told him to. Convenient. Then, by the time the French do invade, Robin has rallied all the barons to defend England, but they invade anyway, attacking the cliffs of Dover, which has to be the worst fucking military strategy in history. The whole French invasion subplot is useless at best, there’s a whole big deal about John divorcing his frigid English wife and marrying the French king’s sister, but she doesn’t seem to have anything to do with either of the evil plans, and then William Hurt is there, and there’s a whole thing about Locksley’s blind dad… None of it matters, and the royal subplot is so dense and complex that I had almost no idea what was going on in it. Anyway, at the end, the French surrender to Robin instead of John, so he gets his royal pants in a twist and declares Robin to be an OUUUUUUTLAAAAWWWW, so I guess it was all buildup for that?
|The shocking story of an outlawed dressage team.|
THE OTHERWISE WORTHY OF MENTION - I’d really like to judge this film on its own merits and not for the movie it could have been. I’d like to, but I can’t. Because it’s impossible to mention this film without mentioning “Nottingham”. Nottingham was one of the hottest spec scripts in Hollywood, winning heaps of awards, and inspiring a fierce bidding war. The hero of the story was the Sheriff of Nottingham, who was torn between his duty to collect taxes for a greedy and uncaring government, and also to uphold the law and care for the people. This is not helped by the arrival of Robin Hood, an opportunistic and charismatic thief who targets the unpopular sheriff. Robin becomes a hero of the people not because of any ingrained moral compass, but because it’s the best way to get away with stealing stuff, and with romancing Marian, whom the sheriff also has eyes for. When it appears that Robin has stepped up his game from robbery to serial murder, the sheriff smells something off, and realizes that Robin is not the killer, but is being framed, and works with his hated enemy against a greater evil.
Sounds great, right? I’d love to see that movie. And the screenplay was hot. Every studio wanted a crack at it, and Universal and Imagine were the victors. Russell Crowe was cast as the Sheriff, with Colin Farrell heavily favored for Robin Hood. Then Ridley Scott got brought on, and little by little, all the creative stuff was leached away, replaced with Ridley Scott Epic Movie Stuff. I won’t put this under “THE BAD”, since it would be unfair to do that for something that isn’t part of the movie, and since Ridley Scott is quite talented at making Ridley Scott Epic Movie Stuff, but I do wish I’d had a chance to see Nottingham. Maybe some day.
|Nice hair, man. I liked it when you guys were doing Gladiator, too.|
ROBIN - Boy, I tell ya, Robin Longstride may not be the dumbest name we’ve had for our guy (that‘s still Robert Hode), but it’s up there. Russell Crowe is an excellent actor, but he’s also the kind of actor who’s hard to fully accept in any role. He’s known so well on his own that he never completely disappears into the role, never stops looking like Russell Crowe in a hood and starts looking like Robin Skywalker. Sorry, Longstride. But that’s not really his fault, and he plays the complex emotions of Robin well. He’s world-weary, but then he finds himself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife, and he asks himself “Well, how did I get here?“ and he may ask himself “How do I work this?“… Whoa, sorry. Just Byrned out for a second. But still, those are hard emotions to play, and Crowe really works them. His flirting with Blanchett and the moments when he lets himself relax around his friends are really lovely. Another interesting touch is that caring for the common man was made a family trait, with Robin’s late father being the author of a precursor to the Carta de Foresta, which means it’s thanks to him we can… [reads Carta de Foresta online] make a marl-pit on our own land, as long as it’s outside and doesn’t hurt anyone. And these are things we hold dear.
|Kevin Durand is not what you'd call "gifted of face".|
LITTLE JOHN - Speaking of the Talking Heads, John’s portrayal is the same as it ever was, same as it ever was. Actually, that’s not totally true, while he’s not drawn much deeper than a big, punchy drunk, he’s actually quite clever this time around. Of all the Merry Men, he’s the only one that wasn’t an archer in the war, but an engineer, moving and operating the siege engines, and he shows a gift for strategy. In fact, the conflict that leads to him and Robin’s friendship isn’t crossing a bridge, but rather him catching Robin cheating at a shell game. Or rather, catching him not cheating. But hey, still a good reason for a punch-up. Best moment is when he spots a large woman and loudly informs Tuck of his intentions. “Oi! She’s aboot my size! I’m gonna… make her smile.”
|If he was a baker, he'd be a ginger bread man. Thank you, thank you.|
WILL SCARLET - Will also gets little in the way of characterization, but I like him anyway. His red hair and thick accent mark him as Welsh, which is fun for the novelty, if nothing else. He’s also fairly tiny, and takes a more homey approach than the rest, as their cook and quartermaster. He also steals stuff from bad guys’ bodies one or two times, which is fun, but sadly, they don’t make a running gag of it. I’d love it if he was just a kleptomaniac, constantly picking up anything someone left lying around. Actually, that’s more or less the BBC Alan, isn’t it? Okay, then.
|YABBA DABBA DOO|
TUCK - “I’m not a ‘churchy’ friar. Never was.” How true. Despite his fame as the blustering, boisterous king Robert Baratheon on Game of Thrones, Mark Addy specializes in playing Regular Guys. The kind of folks you could relax and have a good time with. And that’s what this Tuck is all over. Far more interested in his bees and brewing than the finer points of religion, Robin spots a rebellious streak in him and pulls on it, finding that Tuck takes far more satisfaction in directly saving people than worrying about their souls. A bit soft and friendly, but willing to kick ass when required. Actually, he reminds me a lot of the Robin of Sherwood version of Tuck, who I always liked.
|Robin's a Gandalf fan.|
MUCH - There’s no Much, but in the sense that I tend to consider any little tagalong kids as a sort of pseudo-Much, there’s like 50 of them. The one with the most valid claim is Jimmy, a kid in Richard’s army that Robin was looking after, who may as well have been wearing a red jerkin, as he died on the way back to England. Then in Nottingham, the villages are being menaced by a roving band of orphaned children wearing scary masks. This is the stupidest of all the subplots, and I keep forgetting it exists. There’s a rather nice scene where Robin shows caring and compassion to the boys, and they help him out at the end, but just like all the France stuff, this could have been cut at no cost to the rest of the film. At the end, Robin begins training them all in the forest, thus setting up a sequel where most of the Merry Men are, in fact, Merry Boys in Scerry Masks.
|She threatens to castrate someone in her second scene, and that's all I want from a Marian.|
MARIAN - Another excellent performance, and well-written role. Marian is married to Sir Robert Locksley, but he went a’crusadin’ before the ink was dry on their banns (those have ink, right?), so she barely knew him, and was left to care for their land on her own. This has made her very cautious and closed off, and seeing her gradually come to care for Robin is touching and believable. She’s also totally badass. You don’t care for a farm without knowing how to kick a little ass when the situation calls for it. Or, you know, stab a dude in the back of the head and then kick him backwards to the force of his fall drives it the rest of the way in. That was pretty awesome.
|[Price is Right sad trombone noise]|
SHERIFF - The sheriff naturally gets short shrift in the revised screenplay, as he wasn’t a part of it at all once the drafts changed the main character to Robin. But what little they do with him is done well here. He’s largely incompetent and buffoonish, but enough of a strident bully that he’s effective in his job. He pursues Marian romantically until her ‘husband’ returns and shows him up, after which he just sort of wanders around moping like a sad sack until Robin is outlawed at the end. If this movie had done well enough to warrant a sequel, I’d have loved to see him taking his petty revenge. As a cowardly lout who enjoys throwing his weight around against people too weak to fight back, he reminded me mostly of Disney’s sheriff, and that’s not a bad thing.
|"Of course you can trust me. Do I look like someone you couldn't trust?"|
SIR GUY - Godfrey, rather. Not really sure why he’s Godfrey, though. I mean, a traitorous, self-interested knight with a French name and a chip on his shoulder? We’e already got that. Gisbourne was the killer in the original “Nottingham” script (spoilers, I guess), with his victims being supporters of Richard. In this, Godfrey is part of the overly complex “French invasion” plot, which I mentioned before, so I guess his name is just to throw a bit more fuel onto the conflagration of convolution that is that subplot. But he’s played very well by Mark Strong, who was playing villains in pretty much every major Hollywood release at the time. He really got to cut loose with the crazy this time, as a sneering psycho with a creepy little Joker scar from an arrow, and he was fun enough to watch that it kept my mind off how dumb the subplot was.
|"Godfrey, are people laughing at my hat?" "They're just jealous, sire."|
THE MAN - Richard and Eleanor both feature in this one. Eleanor is fun, and as sassy as ever, even if she kind of just kind of fades out of the movie in the second half. I like that they play her as more or less causing John’s emotional issues by favoring his bloodthirsty idiot brother over him. Speaking of which, Richard is portrayed more accurately than normal here, as a needy, insecure jerk who doesn’t care that he’s bankrupted his country fighting pointless wars. His hair, however, is fabulous. And he’s killed by a cook who grabbed a crossbow, a fun in-joke on the real Richard being killed by someone who used a frying pan as a shield. The bulk of the royal work goes to Oscar Isaac as King John. John is depicted as smart, ruthless, vain, insecure, and short-tempered, which all adds up to - and if you’re sick of hearing this, I’m sick of saying this - a personality that could easily have replaced the entire France subplot. Rather than Godfrey marauding under John’s orders for the vague benefit of France, he could have just been marauding under John’s orders… and that’s it. And then rather than the final battle between France and England, it could have been the Northern barons under Robin’s command against John’s army. And… that’s it. Robin is defeated, gets outlawed. Easy peasy. Geez, I hate the France supblot. John is also played by the only non-white guy in the movie, which I guess is a little weird? But I got used to it pretty quick and got more distracted by how much he looked like B.J. Novak.
|"I shall pluck ye a merry tune on me beard."|
OTHER MERRY MEN - Alan a’Dayle is the big one, of course, but I largely coered him earlier. He was an archer in the war, along with Robin and Will, and while his acting is fine and his singing is impressive, his accent is… Well, he seems to be from the same area as Robin. There’s also Sir Walter Locksley, the father of Sir Robert, who is blind as a bat, but still possessed by a lively energy, which he confirms by letting the breakfast table know that he “awoke with a tumescent glow”. When I saw this in the theater, I laughed really hard at that, but nobody else did, so all I have to say is read as much as you can to enhance your vocabulary, and you too can understand when your period piece action movies are making boner jokes. Anyway, Sir Walter is the one who comes up with the plan to have Robin fake being Robert, at first just to save the farm, but eventually he comes to love Robin as a son. And he’s played by Max von Sydow, so it works REALLY WELL. Right in the feelings.
Oh, William Hurt is in it, too. This is the third time I’ve mentioned his name in this review, and each time I’ve finished writing the section and then said, “Oh, right, also William Hurt”, which I think says all you need to know about that. He’s some noble guy who knew Robin’s dad. Yay.
|Thanks, subtitles. Helpful.|
OTHER VILLAINS - None, really, apart from Godfrey’s band of marauders, which include a few recurring faces that probably have names attached. They really are just cartoonishly evil. Not even sure how he hired them. Did he just put an ad in the French papers? “Recherché: dingues sociopathes qui sont prêts à vivre dans les bois et manger de la terre pour une période indéterminée jusqu'à ce que mon patron me dit de tuer des gens, ce que nous ferons, mais je suppose pas dans la façon dont il veut que nous? Hé, êtes-vous allé à Google Translate pour savoir que cela signifie? J'espère que ça ne s'est pas trop mutilé. Dieu sait que je ne vais pas vérifier.”
|A fun reference joke here - Robin Hood was from Barnsdale in the oldest legends, and enjoyed grunting.|
BEST LINE -
Eleanor : “Taxes? Milk a dry udder, and the only thing you’ll get is kicked off the stool.”
John : “Spare me your farmyard memories, mother, you don’t have any and I don’t understand them.”
SECOND BEST LINE -
Marian : “I was an old maid when Robert courted me. Daughter of a wealthy widow with a thimbleful of noble blood. We were wed, and then a week later, he joined ship for the crusades.”
Robin : “A good knight.” “
Marian : Short, but sweet.”
Robin : “No, ah, I mean, he… he was a good…”
Marian : “Oh, yes, um… yes, he - my knight in arms… And I in his.”
COMING UP AT SOME POINT IN THE FUTURE, I PROMISE -
|Yes, I made this. But it reflects my feelings.|