Sunday, May 23, 2010

Love: Robin Hood

Other than the Disney and Mel Brooks versions, there have been no honest to God, serious Robin Hood tales that are actually good. Luckily for me, a professed Robin Hood lover (I know, it's the history major thing again) Ridley Scott has given us the best version yet, and a damn good movie to boot.

This "prequel" to the basic Robin Hood story begins with Robin Longstride (the extra burly Russell Crowe) and his beloved entourage including Little John (Kevin Durand) and Will Scarlett (Scott Grimes) on their way home from the Crusades, plundering and burning their way through France at the side of King Richard the Lion Heart (Danny Huston). Disgusted by the things he's seen and been forced to do, the ever honest Robin decides to blow the proverbial French Popsicle stand and head home, stealing the identity of Sir Robert of Loxley along the way who comes with a wife (Cate Blanchett as Maid Marion), a father (Max Von Sydow), and a nice spread of land. Not one to "ignore fate," Robin takes all the benefits and the responsibilities of his new position, as the French invade and Prince John (Oscar Isaac) starts acting like a spoiled brat.

Ridley does everything right, beginning with interesting story changes that update the tale, making it satisfying without removing it's authenticity and reflecting the historical background that sprung the story in the first place. This Robin Hood is an average nice guy, making it a bit more believable and exciting when he really does rise up as a man of the people, a true yeoman and not a long lost privileged aristocrat that found his heart and way when push comes to shove. The women in Scott's film also get a nice empowering update. Maid Marion drops the damsel in distress act, becoming a fully realized character that truly is Robin's equal without losing the historical context of her role as a woman, while John's Mother Eleanor of Aquitaine and lover are equally intriguing and complex.

Complex and nuanced are the two words that describe everything nook and cranny of this film in which every detail fully creates a live world. It's not only beautiful to watch but is fascinating and generally accurate in its portrayal of medieval life and warfare. While that warfare is a major component of the film's plot, it never feels too long or overblown, but perfectly pitched to move the action along. Scott also captures the humor of Robin Hood in a realistic way that ices the cake without turning the film away from its gritty texture.

But all the beauty and historical details aside, the story takes the time it needs to fully articulate its message and engage the audience without becoming slow or bogged down. The relationship between Marion and Robin is the best example, perfectly paced, never feeling rushed or sluggish, but builds the passion expertly. Crowe and Blanchett lose themselves in their roles with a chemistry that's exciting to watch. Every character in this film is perfectly cast, especially the genius choice of Lost's Kevin Durand as the menacing and sweet Little John. Isaac's King John is an excellent mix of smarmy, sexy, and annoying, while snaggle toothed Mark Strong's evil Godfrey is the perfect evil bad guy. It's a movie where centuries old iconic characters have been given faces that can never be replaced. Durand is Little John, Crowe is Robin Hood, and Blanchett is Marion. There is no one else.

The film is long (reaching about 2 hours and 30 minutes), but the length is fitting considering its epic proportions and Scott's devotion to bringing out his characters. Luckily, he knows how to make a damn good movie, so the flow keeps everything moving along just right.

The critics seem to hate this movie (it gets a measly 45% on, but I'm not sure what they wanted. All I see is a top notch, fulfilling retelling of one of the world's greatest fairy tales that possesses a hundred times more heart than Scott and Crowe's more recognized collaboration, Gladiator. Go see it so I get my sequel!

P.S. I did have some trouble keeping this image out of my mind whenever Isaac's Prince John came on screen:

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