Saving Private ‘Robin’
Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett
Directed by Ridley Scott
“Don’t you worry, never fear! Robin Hood will soon be here!”
--Little John, “Rabbit Hood” (1949)
Okay, so quoting an old Bugs Bunny cartoon short that spoofs Robin Hood might seem like an odd way to start a review for a huge summer blockbuster, especially since the swashbuckling legend who steals from the rich and gives to the poor is nowhere to be found — at least, not in the classic sense. How he got to be that way is what director Ridley Scott, screenwriter Brian Helgeland and actor Russell Crowe had in mind, since their version of “Robin Hood” is an origin story.
If that’s the case, why does it look and feel so much like “Gladiator”? And that’s not just because of the Scott-Crowe connection, since this is actually their fifth film together (they also did “A Good Year,” “American Gangster” and “Body of Lies”). There’s also the period setting, the epic scope and the May release date that’s about ten years to the day after “Gladiator” opened.
But where “Gladiator” was a rousing and exciting revenge tale that featured fully realized characters, “Robin Hood” collapses under the weight of a convoluted story and characters that fail to take an emotional hold. Even the battle scenes are underwhelming, if only because they bear too much of a resemblance to the ones depicted in grandiose epics like “Braveheart,” “Saving Private Ryan” and Scott’s own “Kingdom of Heaven.”
Where previous versions of the legend showcased his charismatic swagger (think Errol Flynn), the Robin Hood played here by Russell Crowe is more of a tortured soul. That’s when he was known as Robin Longstride, a skilled archer who served under King Richard in the aftermath of the Crusades.
On his way back to England, Robin encounters a dying man who entrusts him with his sword and asks him to return it to Marion Loxley (Cate Blanchett), his wife who lives in Nottingham. Upon his arrival, he finds that the oppressive King John (Oscar Isaac) is overtaxing its citizens, forcing him to take matters into his own hands, free the villagers and become, well, you-know-who.
When it comes to setting an atmospheric, stylish mood, Ridley Scott is notorious for being a proficient taskmaster and a stickler for details. That certainly worked in his favor on classics like “Alien,” “Blade Runner” and “Black Hawk Down.” But in the case of “Robin Hood,” that style overwhelms the substance, and despite boasting top-of-the-line production values, the midsection is sluggish, making its 2 hour and 20 minute running time feel much longer.
The film is also book-ended by huge battle scenes that don’t stand out when compared to similarly staged confrontations in past epics (especially during the big finale, which recalls the carnage-ridden beach invasion at the beginning of “Saving Private Ryan”). Russell Crowe gives a committed performance, as does Cate Blanchett, but their passion for each other feels contrived and lacks the heart that an effective rendering of the classic love story demands.
If Robin Hood does steal from the rich and give to the poor, then we’ll have to wait for the sequel to see it happen. Of course, that depends on how well this film does at the box office, but regardless, it’s too bad that the legend of Robin Hood as we know it didn’t get here soon enough.
Verdict: SKIP IT!