What It Is
Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) is just a “common archer” at the start of Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood. He’s also a team player, not an outlaw at all, fighting alongside King Richard the Lionhearted (Danny Huston) in the Crusades. But, as the 12th century comes to an end and the body count rises, Robin is feeling uneasy with his lot. He’s good at killing people, but maybe, as he tells the king, their cause is not so just and their deeds not so pure. Maybe, as Robin puts it, their pursuit of power in the name of god has actually left them “godless.”
It’s a weighty question to start a summer action picture, and a sign of some of the more serious ruminations that roil around beneath the movie’s epic surface. Robin takes off with a small band of supporters—Little John (Kevin Durand), Allan A’Dayle (Alan Doyle), and Will Scarlet (Scott Grimes)—and soon finds himself opposed to the odious Godfrey (Mark Strong), an assassin dispatched by King Philip of France (Jonathan Zaccaï), who plans to conquer England flat-out.
The contrasts between Robin and the scowly, scheming villains get more obvious with every scene: he likes his men, he’s got a conscience, he has perfect aim with his arrows, and he makes great speeches. When he tells a crowd of ruddy-faced peasants, “You run a country like you build a cathedral, from the ground up!”, well, how can they help but cheer him? He’s also good at cutting deals, as when he negotiates with the mead-making Friar Tuck (Mark Addy), a moment that underlines Robin’s pragmatism: he wants his people to be sheltered, fed, and happy, and will do what’s necessary to get it done. Perhaps most importantly, Robin woos Marion (Cate Blanchett).
Their romance is odd to start: he’s pretending to be her dead husband so she can keep her 5000-acre farm. But even if Marion is a landowner, she works it herself and is besieged by masked feral kids (their fathers are off Crusading) as well as the tax-collecting Sheriff of Nottingham (Matthew Macfadyen). Though Robin resists “settling down,” feeling devoted to his men and his mission (as well as troubled by a trauma concerning his father), he eventually succumbs to Marion’s considerable charms: she’s witty, independent, and by the end of the film she dons knightly armor (like Eowyn in The Lord of the Rings or Alice in Alice in Wonderland) to fight alongside her man against the French invaders.
Why It’s Fun
The movie is packed with plot and characters, to the point that it’s slow sometimes, despite the many battle scenes. Robin is a very gentlemanly action hero, courteous to Marion and her blind father-in-law Walter (Max von Sydow) and slow to anger. But when he is mad, he’s dead-on brutal, with fists, sword, and his trusty bow and arrows. He’s especially good at inspiring his men (particularly in a pre-battle pep talk that sounds like William Wallace in Braveheart), galloping on his horse, and rescuing helpless victims.
Who’s Going To Love It
The movie seems built for fans of Gladiator, the most famous of his collaborations with director Ridley Scott. The themes are similar: noble men fight tyrants, men worry about their fathers (and their swords), crowds cheer heroes—though this target audience may well have outgrown the conventions deployed here. The movie seems split between two impulses, to show something like history and to celebrate larger-than-life myths, and it doesn’t follow through on either of these.
What To Be Aware Of
Aside from the general violence—it’s a movie about England during the Crusades, after all—the material that might most bother younger viewers tends to be background, with some double entendre dialogue.
Violence: A couple of scenes feature the feral kids marauding over the countryside: they’re howling and scampering with sticks, threatening the commoners. The battles are bloody and the special effects gory: characters are slammed to the ground, punched and beaten, bloodied, sliced with swords, pierced with arrows (two through the throat). A flashback suggests someone is beheaded (the deed is off-screen), leaving his young son traumatized. A favorite character is stabbed through his gut. Godfrey and his men attack various populations, at one point locking women and kids into a church and burning it, their horror conveyed by screams and frantic close-ups. Godfrey himself ends up with a nasty scar from an arrow through his cheek, red and stitchy and ugly.
A couple of men try to seduce/rape to Marion in very rough ways: she bites one’s tongue and she stabs the other with a knife in the back of his neck. A favorite character of Robin’s face is artfully bloodied at the end, when he shoots off his final, fight-ending arrow, so that the close-up is especially dramatic.
Sex: During a couple post-battle party scenes, men and women flirt and shout, sometimes rubbing, thrusting, and kissing as background characters; women show cleavage, repeatedly. King John and his French girlfriend, Isabella of Angoulême (Léa Seydoux) show some skin when his mother, Queen Eleanor (Eileen Atkins) interrupts their lovemaking. Angry, he stands up on the bed, naked: she reacts but his nether parts remain out of frame. Robin’s men also cavort with some local women (the ones with the cleavage). Most of this activity is fueled by drinking (Friar Tuck, “not a churchy friar”) cooks and sells mead and grain alcohol), which people do frequently and in rowdy, filthy surroundings.
Language: Some of the language is allusive: when they first meet, feisty Marion threatens to “sever his manhood” if Robin comes near her bed; someone makes a joke about “co-habiting with sheep”; buoyed by his new father-son-lie relationship with Robin, Walter says he woke up happy, with a “tumescent glow” (kids may not get this, but it’s a decidedly strange phrasing). Very little of the language is direct: a couple of characters use the term “bastards” to refer to opponents.
5 out of 10
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Max von Sydow, William Hurt, Mark Strong, Danny Huston, Eileen Atkins
Studio: Universal Pictures
US Premiere: May 14, 2010
UK Premiere: May 14, 2010