In director Ridley Scott’s take on the world’s most famous wealth distributing hero – a man who extolled the virtues of supporting working families well before Friar Kevin came along – Russel Crowe plays a violent brute of a man who steals telephones from the rich and throws them at the poor.
Wait, let me try that again.
In Ridley Scott’s swords-n-arrows snoozer the protagonist is in fact an identity thief – a gruff funny talkin’ Englishman who pilfers the name of a dying man (Robin of Loxley) in order to deliver the new king his crown.
In the process of hashing up this already well rehashed story Scott dobs himself in as a master thief too – namely of the time, patience and goodwill invested by audience members who still believed in his ability to entertain.
The most remarkable thing about Scott’s frightfully dull and depressingly photographed spin on the story of Robin and his band of now meagre men is how he and Crowe, the uber machismo driving force behind Gladiator, managed to cock it up so badly. Nobody was expecting a masterpiece but then again nobody thought Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood would have less thematic depth than Robin Hood: Men in Tights, so there ya go.
Scott’s soporific epic is supposed to be a sort of obese opening act to the legend – sorry, LEGEND – a prologue to get us psyched for the sorts of stories we know come next. But it plays much too grandiose for the more modest trajectory of the origins story. Set in AD1199, Robin Hood returns from the war in France back home to England, nabbing the identity of a farm owner whose wife is a stiff plank of wood named Marion (Cate Blanchett).
The good penny-saving folk of ye old England are being accosted for taxes and slaughtered if they don’t cough up on time under the tyrannical reign of Prince John (Oscar Isaac, who was terrific as José Ramos Horta in last year’s war drama Balibo). Robin Hood don’t much like this, but then again he don’t much like the French either, so naturally he goes to war against both. Don’t however enter the cinema under the mistaken assumption that there’s gonna be lots of action. There ain’t.
Instead Scott and his writers usher in a steady stream of dramatic umming and ahhing, excessive amounts of flabby exposition and long, tortuous slabs of so-what? character development.
Robin Hood movies have conditioned us to expect brisk storytelling. This version has none of the dashing pace of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991) or of Errol Flynn’s charming 1938 version. It slows the story down to the speed of a gopher stuck in first. Sometimes almost literally: a slow-mo shot near the end of Crowe emerging from water, howling like a dumb beast, is laugh out loud stuff.
Efficient character development has never been Ridley Scott’s strong suit, but in his desperation to make the story “epic” he has sucked all the fun bits out of the Robin Hood legend. Some of the action scenes are well choreographed, but these moments come and disappear quickly and there aren’t enough of them. Not by a long shot.
At first Crowe’s English accent sounds funny but you get used to it after a while. With all the issues this film has, the star’s voice is quickly forgotten. Crowe offers no variation of his trademark character: a gruff, no nonsense, stoic alpha male, and in this case one almost entirely bereft of charisma. It’s not so much acting as existing.
Robin Hood’s rare speeches – mostly he just grunts and mumbles – are on-the-soap-box bouts of BS juiced up by the obligatory weeping violins in the background. “What we wish for is liberty. Liberty by law…” and blah blah, blah blah blah.
What about the chemistry between Crowe and the great Cate Blanchett? Forget about it. It’s as if they arranged a competition beforehand to see who could contribute the blandest performance of their careers. I call a tie.
Coincidentally, at the “champagne media screening” I sat directly behind Sam Newman, who spent the movie intermittently shifting in his seat, sighing deeply, fidgeting and craning his head from side to side; at one point his neck was almost perfectly horizontal. You keep track of these sorts of things when you watch a movie as boring as this.
The flaky Channel 9 Footy Show host seemed sad and rattled, as if his mum had died that day and he was watching a movie to try and forget about it. The film failed to lift is spirits, as it failed to lift mine. Interestingly, he and his female companion abruptly walked out of the cinema just as the final action scene began. Who could blame them?
No-one can argue against the logic of providing champagne beforehand. Juice up the crowd and maybe, just maybe, they’ll respond a little more favourably. But you’d have to be three sheets to the wind to mistake this dross for passable entertainment. When the closing credits appeared, somebody down the front attempted a round of applause. Nobody joined in.
As my buddy quipped to me after the last of his bubbly disappeared from his glass: “the sharper the knives, the poorer the meat.”
Robin Hood’s Australian theatrical release date: May 13, 2010.