Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Only once in this story behind the legend does the fabled ‘Robin Hood’ step out of the bushes in the forest to steal from the rich to give to the poor.
That’s because this latest reimagining of the Nottingham tale, powered by the formidable Russell Crowe-Ridley Scott pairing, now in its fifth iteration, is a more traditional medieval adventure.
In fact, it is like no other Robin Hood movie I have seen so far; a far cry from the rip-roaringly fun, yet ridiculous, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, remembered by some for the horrid, half-hearted Brit accent from star Kevin Costner.
And the Mel Brook’s send-up, Robin Hood: Men in Tights (which Scott had apparently said he liked) will not register as being related to this film in any way, shape or form.
Scott’s movie is by turns enthralling, heart-thumping, and delightfully ruthless, and in Crowe, his trusted alpha leading man since Gladiator, he has found a ‘Robin of the Hood’ who has real presence and substance.
Crowe plays a war-weary archer named Robin Longstride, who returns to England from the Crusades to find unpopular King John taxing the poor people to the hilt and oppressing them with violent henchmen, including a dubious French-fluent Godfrey (Mark Strong).
As fate and circumstance would have it, he comes across a dying knight named Loxley just as he leaves war-torn France and assumes his identity to secure safe passage home.
This is a development that would take Robin and his small team of war veterans – merry men who love a good song, drinks, and dance – to a small village where a Lady Marian (Cate Blanchett) and her aged father-in-law (Max von Sydow) await the return of husband and son Loxley.
With the Sheriff of Nottingham (Matthew Macfadyen) looking to tax the village dry, a false Loxley is required to help save the village. Enter Robin Longstride.
Scott’s film, judging by early trailers, gave the initial impression of potentially being one of those exceeding self-important affairs – a film that might take itself too seriously.
Fortunately, those fears were unfounded. There may be a love story between Longstride and Marian, but it comes about in a natural-enough way – handled expertly by two top-notch actors.
And it doesn’t detract from the political intrigue, whereby a double-agent is fomenting civil war in England in order to pave the way for a French invasion.
Crowe is eminently watchable as Longstride, and he is aided by a sterling cast that includes William Hurt, Danny Huston and Mark Addy, in addition to the aforementioned performers.
Stealing many a scene as the histrionic, but cowardly King John, is relatively unknown Guatemalan actor Oscar Isaac, who proves he can go over the top with the best of them.
If there is a quibble, it is that Macfadyen, a fine actor, and his character the Sheriff are somewhat overshadowed and reduced to an afterthought. This was a role that could have been fleshed out more.
Nonetheless, it is a testament to the script, actors and director that the key characters stand out in this film, which has decent action sequences, particularly the war scenes, but does not rely on them to succeed.
Robin Hood works as a kind of gritty prequel to the legend we know, the one before the men in tights become outlaws and use the forest for their economic redistribution policy.
It dispenses with petty feuds and duels and focuses on the bigger picture, the bigger story, and it is yet another example of the seemingly merry Scott-Crowe partnership that doesn’t stop delivering the bounty.
About Yong Shu Chiang
Yong Shu Chiang, otherwise known as SC, is a freelance editor and writer. He reviewed movies for Juice magazine when he was in college, and was the resident film reviewer for Today Newspaper from 2003 to 2005. He has also reviewed movies for Prime Time Morning on Channel NewsAsia.
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