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05.19.10

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Phaedra
Photograph by David Appleby
ALL WET: Russell Crowe wades through the muck in Ridley Scott's ponderous 'Robin Hood.'

Hoodwinked

Bristling with political commentary and unburdened by nuance, 'Robin Hood' disappoints

By Richard von Busack


MY GRANDMOTHER had an expression for someone taking the out-of-the-way path: "You're going by way of Robin Hood's barn." Ridley Scott's Robin Hood—overlong, hideously expensive, graceless to the extreme—follows just that kind of route.

There's probably never been such a politics-heavy version of the tale—and inevitably, it's flavored by the tea bag rebellion. That tactic might be a natural. The characters complaining about the king's taxes paying for foreign wars remind us of why the story is relevant, as if we hadn't picked up on what a story of England's worst king might have to do with a nation that had just weathered its worst president.

Depressingly, this Robin Hood turns out to be a prequel to the Sherwood Forest days. "Robin Longstride" (Russell Crowe), a yeoman in Richard the Lionheart's army, is sickened by the massacre at Acre. Escaping after His Majesty gets it in the neck, Robin decides to pose as a knight whom he meets dying in the forest. The killers are led by one Godfrey (Mark Strong, being the malo hombre again); Godfrey escapes, but he gets his mouth cut and marked up, Joker-wise, by a close shave from the point of Robin's arrow.

In Nottingham, Robin meets the widow of the dead knight, Marion (Cate Blanchett). The lord of their small manor, her blind father-in-law (Max von Sydow), decides to do a Martin Guerre on this imposter, pretending that Robin is the same knight who left for the wars 10 years ago. But bits of hidden history have to wait as Godfrey—now King John's chancellor—betrays his nation by secretly bringing in agents of the evil King Philip of France.

In one scene, having his chainmail taken off by Marian, Crowe shows us the powerful torso we would want in the hero, but his morose presence doesn't lend itself to a story of a forest spirit—this has to be the least-sylvan Robin Hood ever to grace the screen. Some big talents turn up to play royals and chancellors. Eileen Atkins is an uninterestingly scripted Eleanor of Aquitaine. Oscar Isaac perks up occasionally as the dandified King John ("It's bloody expensive running a country"). Bearded and wigged, William Hurt has unusual presence playing the kingmaker William Marshal. Danny Huston never gets a real showstopper line as the Lionheart, but the shaggy mid-'70s rocker wig and beard and his general feverishness are certainly an idea of how a murderous conqueror should look.

In a film full of moments that could be cut without anyone missing them, Scott decided to keep a bit about how Robin is the fatherless child who cannot triumph until he recovers a memory of his old man's love. It's not Crowe's fault that he's too old to play the rebellious youth, and it's not screenwriter Brian Helgeland's fault that we just got this same trope in Iron Man 2 last week, but this bit is particularly obvious here, and it's a screenwriter's crutch that needs to go to the Goodwill ASAP.

What's good about this movie? Not much. Mark Addy, as the proto-Franciscan Friar Tuck, looks medieval; he has a face you'd see in a Brueghel. The waterfront welcoming ceremony at the Tower of London gives us a moment of beauty and stillness. Atkins' face as she receives her dead son's crown is properly regal; and there's some spirit to a CGI view of the pagan chalk horse carved into a hillside, looking brand-new, overlooking a rally of mounted barons. Blanchett's slow burn does its old magic for a second, but these are instances.

Robin Hood is harried, awkward and bombastic—the nervousness of the filmmakers and the cast is palpable, as if even they couldn't explain why they were making a new version of this old story.

ROBIN HOOD (PG-13; 140 min.), directed by Ridley Scott, written by Brian Helgeland, photographed by John Mathieson and starring Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett and Max von Sydow, plays countywide.


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