Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way first. Russell Crowe is in his mid-forties and playing the “younger” Robin Hood — you know, as is the trend these days to show us how the men became the legends. He’s utterly mis-cast in the role. Being such a chameleon of an actor in his younger days has taken its toll on Mr. Crowe, and he hasn’t aged well. He’s reached that point in his career where he now only plays Russell Crowe — you know, that bullish, overweight, talented dude full of piss and vinegar on and off the screen. Thankfully, his old pal Ridley Scott still loves him, and you have to give the director some props for not giving a damn about the age thing (hell, Sir Ridley is in his seventies himself) and casting ol’ Russell in the title role of his revamp of Robin Hood. He then had the good sense to cast (shouldn’t she be Dame by now?) Cate Blanchett as a feisty Lady Marion, and for fans of old school Hollywood epics, it’s a real treat to see two accomplished Oscar winners create palpable chemistry and act against each other within the comfortable context of well-worn characters.
Ridley Scott has traversed many genres, but he — more than any director out there — knows his way around historical epics. Let’s not forget it was his first marriage to Russell Crowe in Gladiator that brought the two their biggest hit — and deservedly so. His Robin Hood (though I already can imagine a bloated director’s cut coming to Blu-Ray) is surprisingly quick-footed. Well paced and edited with meticulous attention to period detail, beautifully photographed, and featuring a well done by-the-numbers script that adds just enough psychological background to the characters, good humor, and politics for viewers to become invested in the retread of the legend, Scott’s Robin Hood arrives better than advertised. It’s also great to see Scott learned from the one big mistake he made with Gladiator, where he relied to heavily on CGI to color in ancient Rome, and instead here leans on spectacular set pieces (the castles are extraordinary) and the natural British scenery (get a load of this Sherwood forest) to takes us back in time. If there was any CGI used here, I couldn’t tell, and that’s a true sign of a top-notch crew. When a film costs an obscene 200 million dollars to produce, it’s refreshing not to be insulted with shoddy production values and laughable effects.
While the two mega-star leads are up to the task, it’s usually the supporting cast that can make or break these types of overwrought epics. Thankfully here they handle their task with aplomb with Danny Huston appearing all-too briefly but like gangbusters as King Richard the Lion-hearted, Mark Strong making an excellent French-talking bad guy, Oscar Isaac over-acting Joaquin Phoenix-style as Prince John, and Eileen Atkins superb as the queen mother.
There are times, of course, when certain moments play out like Gladiator redux or your mind might drift off and have a sidebar laugh about Robin Hood: Men in Tights, but for the most part Scott and company deliver the goods. It never quite turns into the Ridley and Russell love-fest many had feared, thanks in large part to the presence of Cate Blanchett and Ridley’s unshakable desire to create the greatest archery scenes ever committed to film. At one point near the end (and trust me, this really isn’t giving anything away) when one of our dastardly villains gets shot through the neck by one of Robin’s arrows, the two older ladies a few seats down from me in the theater squealed with glee. It made me think of one of Maximus’ famous lines in Gladiator when after slaying his opponent in a make-shift ghetto coliseum, he screamed at the crowd, “Are you not entertained?”
Eh, yeah, I guess I was entertained…again. Don’t go in expecting anyone to reinvent the wheel and you might have a good time in this Hood. If the previews in front of the film are indicative of the tripe coming our way this summer, we should be thankful something like Robin Hood came around in May. It’s a film that comfortably is what it is: generic but pretty damn good.
Written by David H. Schleicher