Saturday, May 15, 2010

Robin Hood

Random observation: I rather feel like the same people who designed the above poster also worked on this one...what do you think?

When I first heard that Ridley Scott was making a Robin Hood film, I was incredibly excited - especially when I heard that it would be somewhat similar - perhaps an unofficial sequel - to Kingdom of Heaven, which is my favorite Scott film. (Please, if you've never seen the director's cut of Kingdom, do so asap!) And then this teaser trailer came out, and my interest in the movie nose-dived. That has to be one of the worst teasers ever cobbled together for a major film. Thankfully for this movie I stumbled upon a much, much better trailer back in April when I was putting together this post - and my interest in the movie revived. :)

This is most definitley not your traditional Robin Hood story. It's a dark, intense origin story where Scott has attempted to place the character of Robin Hood in a very real historical context. Though not a true sequel to Kingdom of Heaven, it makes an excellent companion film (sort of the "homefront" to Kingdom's Crusade-set action). The film opens with Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston) leading his weary army back home to England, sacking French castles on the way. If you're expecting a traditional Robin Hood storyline, Scott dispatches that notion pretty quickly as Richard kicks the proverbial bucket and dies enroute. Robin (Russell Crowe) and his men (Little John - Kevin Durand, Will Scarlet - Scott Grimes, and Allan A'Dayle - Alan Doyle) are lowly archers and men-at-arms in Richard's army. With the king dead, the four decide to strike out for home. But their plans change when the come upon Richard's loyal lieutenant, Sir Robert Loxley (Douglas Hodge - almost didn't recognize him, he played Dr. Tertius Lydgate in Middlemarch), tasked with returning Richard's crown to England. Loxley and his men were ambushed and massacred, and he tasks a reluctant Robin with returning his sword to his father, Sir Walter Loxley (Max von Sydow) in - wait for it - Nottingham. :) Robin & company assume the identity of knights in order to make their way home easier - and of course Robin assumes Loxley's identity.

I'm going to stop with the story recap here (that's probably enough of an introduction, anyway) and delve into the characters and acting for a while. I'll save Robin and Marion for last. :) Back in England Richard left behind a very selfish, immature younger brother - John, played by Oscar Isaac - with serious mommy issues. Eleanor of Acquitaine is played superbly by Eileen Atkins. She's regal and powerful and has a wonderful screen presence - an unexpected jewel of a performance. John is, of course, a disaster in the making, and as soon as the crown settles on his head he goes full steam ahead with his plans to tax, tax, tax. Isaac's performance is interesting and makes you wonder how John would've turned out if he hadn't grown up knowing he was viewed as so obviously the lesser brother. William Hurt makes an interesting appearance as the loyal William Marshal, pushed aside by John for disagreeing with his taxation schemes. Marshal is a rather interesting "bridge" character - thorughly loyal to the crown, he also has a very realistic view of the crown's shortcomings when dealing with its subjects.

It's absolutely tragic that this is the only picture I could find of Mark Strong in character as the villainous Godfrey. It really doesn't do the man justice, just so you know. As I discussed with Lori and then some other friends on Facebook, if this movie couldn't feature Richard Armitage as Sir Guy, there's no one I'd rather see stand in the role of Robin's nemesis than Mark Strong. Ever since appearing as Septimus in Stardust, Strong has become the go-to guy to play villains and you can't turn around without seeing him in a new project - Sir John Conroy in The Young Victoria, Lord Blackwood in Sherlock Holmes, and now upcoming appearances in new sci-fi franchises like the Green Lantern. While he makes a habit of playing evil, morally repulsive characters, can we just take a moment to appreciate this:

The man is gorgeous, no? Look at those soulful eyes. *swoon* Give me a second to scrape myself off the floor and we'll get back to the point of this post....okay, yeah, Godfrey. Excellent villain. Strong quite simply owns the screen every time he appears. Intense, magnetic, evil, and brilliant, Godfrey is a worthy villain in the tradition of all on-screen Gisbornes.

While Strong delivers in spades, I have to admit to being disappointed in Matthew Macfadyen's appearance as the Sheriff. Now I have a long history of loving Matthew's screen appearances (click to read my reviews of his performance in Little Dorrit), but in Robin Hood he appears nearly unrecognizable (the hair was gross people, I just need to say it) and for maybe, maybe all of about five minutes of screentime. REALLY?! It was a bit disappointing to say the least. However, I have got to give Matthew credit for giving this largely thankless role a slyly comic turn. In fact, if Ridley Scott ever decided to make a sequel - and frankly, the end of this movie begs for one - I think Matthew's take on the iconic Sheriff of Nottingham role would be a highlight.

Last but certainly not least, this brings us to Robin and Marion (Cate Blanchett). I had serious reservations about Crowe and Blanchett's casting in such iconic roles, but both performances blew me away. I've always been rather ambivalent about Russell Crowe - while I think he's inarguably talented, and I've enjoyed his performances in movies like Master and Commander, I've never been nuts about him like so many people I know. And I've never, EVER gotten the whole Crowe-is-a-dreamy-heartthrob thing until this movie. Oh my word. Excellent job playing the whole strong, man of few words, incredibly charismatic and intelligent type. Wowzers. :) I will say that I thought Robin's backstory and connection to Sir Walter was just a little too convenient, but all things considered it worked.

Here Robin's lady is no maid, rather the widow of Sir Robert Loxley. Married as a self-described "old maid" for only a week before Robert left for the Crusades, Marion has spent ten years trying to keep her father-in-law's estate going, which is a largely thankless job in the face of crippling taxes and thievery from what I'm going to call the "Lost Boys of Sherwood Forest." Like Marian in the lately lamented Robin Hood television show, Blanchett's Marion is a fighter, but infinitely more mature and seasoned by circumstances. I really loved Blanchett's portrayal of Marion, though I do think her fight scene at the end of the film was rather poorly thought out and generally unnecessary (though it did allow Crowe and Blanchett to enact their own version of the famous water kiss in From Here to Eternity, LOL!). Oh, and before I forget, the "Lost Boys" really, REALLY needed to be explained better. Their appearances felt rather random.

I wasn't expecting such a strong romance to develop in this movie. After all, it is a Ridley Scott film, chock-full of the requisite battle scenes and political intrigue. But Crowe and Blanchett have some crazy on-screen chemistry that I never expected to see and it works really, really well. When one brings together two actors of that caliber sparks are bound to fly, right? :) This film gives us the most mature, grounded, real Robin and Marion love story that I think I've ever seen brought to life. The relationship between these two characters grows as much or more with a look than dialogue, and I just loved that. Watching the two of them get to know each other and appreciate each other's character and strengths is absolutely wonderful to see, and the way Crowe looks at Blanchett can steal your breath - he's so. freaking. HOT. in those scenes.

I love Scott's ability to bring this time period to life. It's gritty and violent (though in keeping with the film's PG-13 rating miraculously bloodless), but there's a wild beauty to the scenery that you just want to lose yourself in. I also thought Marc Streitenfeld did a good job with the score - prior to this, I am not familiar with his work. Ridley Scott and company have crafted a fascinating exploration of Robin Hood's origins, but the last five minutes or so of the film will, if you're like me, leave you desperate for a sequel. That's when the storyline heads into more traditional Robin Hood territory. Given how Ridley Scott has set up this world, and the life Crowe and Blanchett have brought to the iconic Robin and Marion roles, I would love to see how this team would continue their version of the Robin Hood legends. After all, King John has to see sense and sign that pesky Magna Carta... ;-)


Tales of Whimsy said...

Oh wow. What a aweomse review. I want to see this.

You're right about the soulful eyes.

Maria Grazia said...

What I great review! I mildly wanted to see it, feeling it a sort of task, but you made absolutley long for watching it!
Well done Ruth.
I loved Russel Crowe more in A Beautiful Mind than in The Gladiator, then I love Cate Blanchett and Mark Strong and I'm even ready to disappointed in Matthew Mac Fadyen's brief appearance. I'm sure I'll miss my Guy of Gisborne but... I definitely want to see it!It was released just yesterday here in Italy.
Have a great weekend!

Laura Frantz said...

My, my, Ruth, this is a must-see. I'm going to do it on the big screen this time as I think this is what it deserves. Your review is AWESOME! I, too, have never been Russell Crowe rabid but I love a warrior-type hero and this might do the trick. Can't wait:)

Lori Benton said...

Ruth (and Laura) I just have to laugh. I just got done telling my husband about this review and that you had convinced me to not wait for the DVD but go see this on the big screen. I only wish I could go with the two of you!

Another awesome review. Has anyone hired you to do this yet, Ruth? You sell em, girl!

Unknown said...

Everyone, your comments are making my day, THANK YOU! :) So happy ya'll are enjoying my review.

@Juju - Glad you are able to appreciate Mark Strong too. :)

@Maria - I really hope you enjoy this film as well! It was quite the surprise for me. I look forward to reading your take on the movie.

@Laura - I think you will love Crowe's warrior hero. He won me over BIG time. Can't wait to hear what you think.

@Lori - We're all channeling each other, eekk! LOL! I would totally go see this movie again with you & Laura, that would be so much fun! :) Oh - have you seen Kingdom of Heaven? I seem to recall that you & I had a brief discussion about levels of violence in film (maybe it was related to the Sharpe series?). Anyway I did just want to stress that this is a vintage Scott war film first & foremost, but I didn't find it overly gratuitous in the violence dept. And no, still writing reviews just for fun...thanks for the compliment though! :)

Oh, everyone one more thing - if you go see this be sure to stay through the first part of the credits. I thought the way they retold parts of the story through gorgeous, abstract animation was really cool.

Anonymous said...

I went to watch yesterday in the hope of complaining a lot, because for the trailers I was really disapointed. As Robin Hood is my favourite hero I had to see what Scott did to him. And then I had to bite my tongue. I loved this! I cannot believe they did such a good job! Incredible in every aspect! Although I didn't think Crowe and Blanchett had a great chemistry. Well done with the Magna Carta thing! And I couldn't belive in how they transformed poor Macfadyen! A sequel MUST be done!

Lori said...

Lovely Mark Strong pic!

I was just thinking about some of my favorite old Russell Crowe movies. Did you ever see Mystery, Alaska? I think you could enjoy it. And two movies where he also exhibits that sexy, man of few words charisma are L.A. Confidential and The Quick and the Dead. TQatD is not the greatest movie (Sharon Stone in a western?!?) but Russell is the main draw in my opinion. You might not like L.A.C b/c of the language/violence but Russell is awesome.

Lori Benton said...

Ruth, the violence thing is such a gray area. The same violent act in one film could make me cringe and turn the channel, when in another it might not provoke that reaction. There's just something about the Sharpe series that struck us as a bit too brutal. I don't think I saw Kingdom of Heaven. I did see Gladiator.

Unknown said...

@Luciana - I'm so glad to hear you enjoyed the film as well. The powers that be really did the movie a disservice in how it was promoted IMO - doesn't do the finished product justice. I really, really liked Crowe & Blanchett's relationship though - would LOVE to see how that plays out in a sequel. I really hope this is something Ridley Scott decides to pursue.

@Lori - I know, right? :) I never saw Mystery, Alaska, L.A. Confidential, OR The Quick and the Dead, can you believe it? Wasn't Mystery a favorite of Becky's? LOL! Thanks for the recs.

@Lori - I know exactly what you mean. Some films I'm fine with and others which could be very similar elicit that stronger negative reaction. If you've seen (and liked) Gladiator I think you'll be fine with RH.

Lori said...

Yes, I think Becky made me watch Mystery, Alaska. ;-)

Did you just watch Dr. Who?

Unknown said...

@Lori - Not shocked. LOL! ;)

Nope, haven't watched Who yet - running behind!

Traxy said...

Like Maria Grazia, I've wanted to see it as a task to fulfill, and the only people I've heard say anything about it have said it was rubbish. Nice to read your very positive review, because it makes me want to go and see the film, and I think your perspective would be similar to mine, which means if you enjoy it, so should I. If you know what I mean? :) Great review!

Mark Strong - watched "Kick Ass" earlier, where he was the baddie. Sooooo far from the oh so lovely Mr. Knightley in "Emma" 14 years (or so) ago! I'm glad that his character isn't called Gisborne, even that's who he effectively plays, because we all know, there is just ONE Gisborne! :)

Unknown said...

@Traxy - I'll be very curious to hear your take on the movie. I have nothing to back this idea up, but I suspect if people go into this expecting a traditional RH story they are disappointed (just my guess).

And you are so right in your last comment, there is only ONE I'm glad this movie did RA the courtesy of changing the baddie's name to Godfrey. ;)

Susannah said...

This is an awesome review. And basically everything you think about it is exactly how I feel about it! I wish I had read this review when it was still in theaters... I would definitely have gone and seen it!

Unknown said...

@Polka Dot - So glad you enjoyed my review, thank you! And even happier that you're as much of a fan of this movie as me! :) It was definitely one of the best movie surprises for me this year.