Ridley Scott is one of the biggest guns running in Hollywood these days, and has been for the last thirty-five years. Some of his biggest successes, such as Alien or Blade Runner, are classics not to be besmirched in print or in voice without fear of many a fierce rebuke by any cinephile near by. Even his Superbowl spot for Apple in 1984 is seemingly untouchable. However, his pictures of late have become mild diversions at best (Body of Lies), or pitiful train wrecks at worst(Kingdom of Heaven). His latest, Robin Hood finds itself just above the former in quality, but has the hallmark of Ridley’s film making that always keeps me at arm’s length, keeps me from diving head first into his pictures, keeps me strongly on Team Tony in imaginary sibling rivalry I want to believe exists between the Scott brothers; his movies just aren’t that fun to watch.
A stylistic and visual master, Ridley Scott has created some of the most indelible images in movie history. Pretty much every frame of Blade Runner is eye popping, scenes from Alien are above reproach, and even Tim Curry’s Devil in Legend will be burned into my brain. His talent in creating a mise-en-scène is, without question, one of the best in the biz, but he just doesn’t have a sense of humor. Even Matchstick Men, with its quirky performances from Nicholas Cage and Sam Rockwell seems a bit too self-serious. Not to say every film needs be a joke filled romp, but Ridley makes big, sprawling, epic films that are filled with action, romance, thrills, and chills—everything but humor. He has the whole package, minus that one little thing, so all of his movies seem to be missing a crucial element. Robin Hood is no different.
In an effort to subvert the past telling and retelling of the same old story, Robin Hood, plays out in the days leading up to the well known tale—a prequel of sorts. All the same characters are there: Robin (Russell Crowe), Maid Marion (Cate Blanchette), Little John (Kevin Durand), and Friar Tuck (Mark Addy), but instead of squaring off against the Sheriff of Nottingham and the petulant King John, Scott sets the famed archer against King Phillip of France and his traitorous cohort Godfry (Mark Strong).
Russell Crowe tries to inject a bit of that elusive humor into the movie, but he, like his director, takes his humor too seriously. Only Kevin Durand pulls off the levity convincingly, but in the end comedy isn’t really why you book Mr. Crowe. You book him because he is tough; he looks it, breaths it, and smears it all over the screen. Crowe’s Robin Hood isn’t the smiling outlaw of Errol Flynn or the Midwestern accented romantic of Kevin Costner, his is a bruiser who incidentally can shoot an arrow pretty well. Always at his best, Crowe always exudes a simmering rage, a man ready to beat you with a telephone without warning, and he infuses it into his Robin Hood. It makes the many battle scenes pop, especially a rawkus fight between him and Little John at the beginning of the film.
These battle scenes are what make the two and a half hour running time seem much shorter. Armed with his usual stroboscopic camera work, Ridley Scott’s forté is the action sequence, however there are parts in the interim that seem short changed. The inevitable love story between Robin and Marion doesn’t seemed forced, per se, but also comes much to easy as to be a given. We just accept it is going to happen so Scott doesn’t try too hard to push the point home.
In addition the supporting characters of Little John, Will Scarlet, and Friar Tuck have good set ups, but don’t add much more to the movie. Brian Helgeland’s script spends too much time propping up the childish King John as a villain, only to switch his role midstream to almost a goofy background player. But I guess all of that was just set up for the sequel.
But character development be damned! Where is the fun? Yes, watching Medieval English peasants shoot uptight knights with arrows can be enjoyable to watch, but it is all done in such a dour, important mood. Some of it is the style in which Scott photographs his movies; always a high-contrast, dark palette. This time it is courtesy of UK DP John Mathieson, a frequent collaborator of Scott’s, and the photography is impeccable, but light it is not.
In the end it all rests on Ridley Scott’s shoulders. He has made incredible movies in the past, and continues to make pictures that often better than average, but usually I don’t find myself coming back to them. Spy Game on the other hand—I could watch that again and again and again.
El Luchador Rating: 3 out of 5
Review By: Paul S. Myers (a.k.a. El Luchador)