Sunday, June 6, 2010

Reel To Reel: Robin Hood

The boys from the original 'hood.

Going Rate: Worth matinee price.
Starring: Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Max von Sydow, William Hurt
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Ye olde violence and pillaging and a few naughty bits 'o bawdiness

It's thirteenth century England, and there's not a tight in sight. Leather, yes. Chain mail, absolutely. However, those romantic images of some Errol Flynn hero swinging from vines and bidding you welcome to Sherwood Forest are gone, gone, gone. Russell Crowe's Robin Hood is the Batman Begins of its subject matter, the reboot movie that seeks in some way to correct everything that came before it, from Flynn's to Kevin Costner's interpretations. The film is billed as the birth of the legend, sticking closer to history than those other movies, right down to the absence of tights.

Richard The Lionhearted (Danny Huston) has gone from fighting in the Crusades to fighting the French. He does not make it through the film's first hour, leaving his country in debt and in the hands of King John (Oscar Issac), a womanizing weakling who's taken a French mistress. His New Majesty reasons, why borrow when you can tax and sets up Godfrey (Mark Strong) as Earl Marshal, his collector. Now we have a pair of big problems: one, much of England is already being taxed to the hilt. And two, Godfrey's secretly working with the French to soften England up for invasion.

Our hero Robin Longstride -- he's not in the Hood yet -- is going rogue from the King's Army with the beginnings of his gang of merry men when he runs across the mortally wounded knight Sir Robert of Locksley (Douglas Hodge). Robin promises Sir Robert he will return the knight's sword back to his father Walter (von Sydow) in the oppressively-taxed Nottingham. Where's their Tea Party movement? Robin follows through on his word, and Walter encourages him to pose as the dead chevalier and wife of Lady -- don't call her Maid -- Marion (Blanchett) in order to protect his land from confiscation by the crown, or the Sheriff of Nottingham (Hurt). It's going to take more than just good aim with a bow and arrow to get through this one. Time to start stealing from the rich, and giving to the poor.

Indeed, two patriotic vibes are running through the picture: a homage to the overtaxed and a cry for limits on the king's power. Beyond that, you've got a gritty and gory period-correct hybrid of swashbuckler and political thriller with the mandatory Big Battle At The End featuring the French landing in England with 1200's-era personnel carriers a la D-Day -- if such vessels existed. I dunno. It's the first time I've seen anything like them.

I wouldn't say director Ridley Scott is trying to remake Gladiator, although I know a lot of you will get that feeling. Or maybe it's just because so many of these rebooted historical epics are so gritty, it makes you wish somebody would do another film like A Knight's Tale, after you've rented Errol Flynn's Robin Hood.

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