This Robin Hood takes from the legends behind the legend and gives to the heroic figure a more serious, politically-charged spin that is itself a timeless tale.
Rise a Knight
Things start off in classic style. Olde English script adorns a canvas gently illuminated by the flickering light of a flame. The script sets the stage, with King Richard the Lionheart off on his crusades. It’s an instant, shorthand way of evoking the Errol Flynn era of Robin Hood. But, as this 140-minute opus unfolds, it becomes much less akin to Flynn and evolves into more of a companion piece to Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven, his 12th century Crusades epic.
Mining many of the same themes as Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven, Robin Hood could be considered the capstone of an epic trilogy all about strength, valor, perseverance, loyalty, justice, and honor. In many respects, it’s vintage Scott.
Trouble is, there’s a whole lotta baggage a retooled Robin Hood has to overcome. There’s no prancing around on tree limbs this time around. And while the Sheriff of Nottingham meddles with Robin’s business, he’s nowhere near the center of attention that catapulted Alan Rickman to the forefront against Kevin Costner’s inferior Hood.
Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe, Maximus himself) has bigger fish to zing his arrows at while on his way to becoming Robin of the Hood: King John, the royal runt and brother to King Richard, and France’s King Philip are far too greedy for their own good.
Rise and Rise Again
What Robin Hood lacks in old-fashioned swashbuckling it makes up for with an interesting story.
Robin is pilloried for tomfoolery and contempt of the king while on the battlefield in France. Following the king’s death during combat, Robin makes his escape, his new friend — a big guy named Little John (Kevin Durand, 3:10 to Yuma) — in tow. A series of circumstances lead him and his band of somewhat merry men to steal away on an England-bound boat under the guise of knights.
Feeling a sense of duty, Robin heads to Nottingham to return a sword to a fallen soldier’s father. As would be expected, it’s in Nottingham where Robin meets good ol’ Friar Tuck (Mark Addy, A Knight’s Tale) and Marion Loxley, better known in pop culture as Maid Marion. As portrayed by the spunky Cate Blanchett (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), this Marion’s hardly a fair damsel in distress. She’s a butt-kicker. And newly widowed.
Robin also meets Marion’s father-in-law, Sir Walter Loxley (Max von Sydow, Shutter Island). He’s a blind old man who’s facing a world of trouble from the newly-crowned King John, who wants Sir Walter to pay all the taxes owed to the kingdom. What troubles Sir Walter and Marion on the farm is of no concern to the king. He wants his money.
Sir Walter, as fate would have it, knows something about this Robin Longstride and his formative years.
Sir Walter’s battle becomes Robin’s. But there’s plenty of treachery afoot elsewhere. France’s King Philip wants his piece of England and the duplicitous Godfrey (Mark Strong, Sherlock Holmes) works both kings with an eye on his own enrichment.
Rise to the Occasion
In Gladiator, Crowe created the ultimate old soul, salt-of-the-earth kind of hero. This Robin Hood strikes at some of the same chords, but hits different notes. The lead character’s grounding in this case isn’t as direct as the violation of wife and child that haunted Maximus while he climbed the ranks of the gladiators.
But there is a back story to Robin that sets the foundation for his outspoken ideology and wandering lifestyle. “Rise and rise again until lambs become lions” is this movie’s haunting mantra; it’s found on the hilt of a sword and it stirs a suppressed memory from Robin Longstride’s childhood.
Considering the long journey it took for Robin Hood to hit the big screen, it’s impossible to say the current global political and economic climate had any sway on the movie’s tone. Loads of changes were made along the way, with Crowe growing out his hair (see State of Play for a glimpse at what might’ve been) only to trim it nice and neat, and with rumblings that Crowe would play both Robin and the Sheriff of Nottingham.
But now, with the citizens of Greece rioting at the prospect of rising taxes and declining benefits and a global economy teetering on implosion thanks to reckless spending by politicians seeking nothing more than another term, the underlying message of Robin Hood is extremely timely — and timeless.
Robin would make a great politician if not for the fact the king wants his head on a platter. While the sheriff chastises Marion, telling her no one should have 5,000 acres of farmland, Robin extols the value in letting men control their own destiny.