Robin Hood

Director    Ridley Scott
Starring    Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Mark Strong, Max Von Sydow, William Hurt, Danny Huston, Matthew Macfadyen
Release    14 MAY (US) 12 MAY (UK)    Certificate 12A
4 stars


15th May 2010

The first time Ridley Scott made a big budget, historical epic with Russell Crowe, it worked out really rather quite well. Scott tried again five years later, only this time he roped in Orlando Bloom. That didn't work out so well. The lesson there is, don't work with Orlando Bloom. Now it seems Scott has learnt his lesson and got his Gladiatorial mate back for another historical/fictional jaunt, but this time, with bows, arrows and a Yorkshire accent (or something like it).
With all its pre-production alterations and rewrites, from tales of Crowe playing both the hero and villain, to it being flipped upside down with the Sheriff portrayed as the good guy, the definitive story of the Nottinghamshire legend finally makes it to the big screen.

Going down the old origin story path, Ridley Scott regales us with how a humble archer who fought with Richard The Lionhart (Danny Huston) during The Crusades went on to become the tight-wearing hero of folklore. After King Richard and Robert Loxley are killed in France, Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe), along with his merry men, set about returning the crown to London and Loxley's sword to Nottingham. Feeling obligated to pose as Loxley, therefore the husband of Lady Marian (Cate Blanchett), Robin finds himself in the middle of some dodgy Royalist politics and an impending French invasion led by the deceptive Sir Godfrey (Mark Strong).

[gallery]It's no surprises that the latest offering from Rid 'n' Russ will draw comparisons with Gladiator - both are beautifully-shot, brilliantly-cast epics. However, whilst Scott wasn't afraid to spill some blood ten years ago, Hood feels all too restrained. Suffering from the summer blockbuster, family friendly, lets-make-as-much-money-as-possible 12A rating, this is a very bloodless affair. We get people falling off horses with arrows in their backs and the odd guy being bashed on the noggin with a club. A far cry from the gruesome sights witnessed in Gladiator.

If Scott had been a little braver, the finale - a fast-paced sandy battle on the beaches of Dover - could have been a lot more effective, not to mention memorable. Instead, it plays out like a disorientating, bloodless 12th century take of the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan, complete with historically questionable French landing crafts.

But despite a lack of the red stuff, this is still the finest version of Robin Hood since the title role was played by a cunning fox without trousers. Russell Crowe is exceptional as Longstride - he's a rugged, skilled soldier, with a mentality crafted by war, not a blonde Californian with a mullet who befriends Morgan Freeman. You would actually believe this man fought in The Crusades.

Along with a perfectly-cast lead and plenty of recognisable faces (my personal favourite being Denis 'French dairy farmer from Inglourious Basterds' Menochet), Scott has assembled a superb cast who all bring something to the forest. Cate Blanchett suits Lady Marian perfectly with her subtle good looks, but also knows what to do with a weapon when called upon, whilst Mark Strong, fresh from punching an eleven-year-old girl in the face in Kick-Ass, plays his usual 'ard man self - just on horseback.

The famous roles of The Sheriff of Nottingham and Prince John are played down but still manage to be extremely effective. Matthew Macfadyen's Sheriff, resembling a scruffier version of Alan Rickman's portrayal, takes a back seat - you could count his minutes on screen on one hand. Meanwhile, Oscar Isaac's ruthless, selfish, Blackadder-resembling Prince John steals every scene he's in, whether he's insulting his mother or picking pubic hairs from his teeth.

Forget about Prince of Thieves and the chavvy, low-rent BBC Saturday night series, this is the ultimate Robin Hood adventure, leaving all other adaptations in the shadows. Keeping the essence of the folklore tale, Scott maintains everything that's loved about the character, like the camaraderie between Longstride and his 'merry men', but it still delivers a very fresh approach to such an iconic figure; with the film ending with everyone living as outlaws in Sherwood Forest, it's set up nicely for a sequel.

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