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#1. Robin Hood (2010) - Review / Analysis

Robin Hood - Ridley Scott 2010The legend of Robin Hood seems to have been birthed out of convenient necessity. Cobbled together by bits of heroism and flights of fancy, town minstrels and inspired storytellers meshed the plausible with the fantastic to provide a subjugated society with the hope that one man can not only confront his oppressors, but against all odds be a champion for the downtrodden and the persecuted. With some 700 varying versions of the legend, Robin Hood is likely a phantom of want. The want felt buy all those too browbeaten to stand up for themselves, too weak to fight back. The belief that a hooded crusader could daringly defend the honor of his people, and return to them the wealth and dignity that was rightfully theirs, was a promising notion.

Taking inspiration from the mouths of bards in the 1200s to the adventurous tale “The Jest of Robin Hood “ in the 15th Century, Hollywood wasted no time bringing the esteemed archer to life on the big screen. In 1908 he was the basis for the silent film Robin Hood and his Merry Men, and from then on the medium has been cluttered with interpretations and silly translations of the urban myth. Ridley Scott’s latest incarnation, simply titled Robin Hood (2010), is concerned more with aesthetic precision than historical authenticity.

Robin Hood - Ridley Scott 2010Taking full advantage of the leniency granted by his well-earned artistic license, Scott forgoes the trivial aspects imparted by documented events and melds fact with cinematic machinations. Not unlike the singing minstrels of ancient Europe, Scott plays with circumstance to produce an engaging narrative. Perhaps not quite the “untold story behind the legend” the Blu-Ray promises, this adaptation does attempt a unique account of Robin Hood’s origin story. The film opens with Robin Longstride, played by Russell Crowe, serving under King Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston) as an archer during an attempted siege on a French castle. In this genuinely brutal recreation of warfare, King Richard is shot through the neck by a French soldier with a crossbow and dies during battle. However dramatic and engaging this scene may play on screen, it is not entirely accurate. King Richard’s death did in fact take place during the taking of a French castle on his return trip from the Crusades, but while the film’s version has the king’s army struggling against a well-fortified French defense, in truth the castle was not as safeguarded as Scott would have his audience believe. The castle was taken without much effort, which makes the King’s demise that much more shocking. Pride and confidence got the best of Lionheart; it is believed the king was approaching the French gate without his proper chainmail when a crossbow lethally struck him. On screen Richard dies almost instantly in the arms of the Knight Robert Loxley, but in fact it took the king nearly two weeks to finally succumb to his wounds.

This latest adaptation is not the first film to begin with Lionheart’s death, Robin and Marion from 1976 starring Sean Connery as the man in tights also had a similar inciting incident. Although most Robin Hood adaptations all utilize the same basic plot points, Scott’s version does strive to find a unique angle for the original characters. Marion for instance is not the helpless damsel so often personified on screen. Here, played by the enchanting Cate Blanchett, Marion is put upon and even vulnerable, but far from being an incapable ingénue. Robin’s customary entourage is also in attendance; archers Allan A’Dayle (Alan Doyle), Will Scarlett (Scott Grimes), and foe turned comrade Little John (Kevin Durand). The trio gives perhaps the most familiar performance of the film, playing into the recognized conventions of the legend of Robin’s “merry men.”The Real Little John... or is that just Baloo?

Despite the fact that nitpicking the historical inaccuracies of Scott’s muddy epic is easier than most historians would prefer, the director did a supreme job of bringing 12th Century Europe to life. The Crusades was an era of both filth and elegance, and the disparity contrasted between these conflicting ways of life are beautifully rendered on screen. The wealth of King John and his bootlicking aristocracy is beyond opulent, only made more noticeable by his wanton and lecherous greed. Outside the castle gate is in all respects a completely different world.  While Eleanor of Aquitaine (Eileen Atkins), the wearily helpless mother of King John and King Richard, attends to her pet owl with the beguiling profile of the castle surrounding her, the stark images of those struggling in the grimy village of Nottingham provide a repugnant polarity. Even those lucky enough to own land, like Sir Walter Loxley (Max Von Sydow) and his daughter-in-law Marion, are shown struggling to just make do.

Director Ridley Scott’s personal take on the myth of Robin Hood, like most historically based films, does its best to bring to life a time and place in vivid detail. The battles are accurately violent and barbarous, taking an almost fetishistic affection to every bloody detail. So to do Scott and his crew impressively recreate the relentlessly harsh way of life in 12th Century England. However, Scott’s artistic and historical liberties are at times down right indulgent. The film would lead you to believe that King John had introduced heavy taxation on his subjects, but in fact burdensome taxes had been a problem for years (someone had to finance King Richard’s war). Scott even goes so far as to have Robin’s father responsible for the Magne Carte, a dramatically engaging turn of events if it weren’t so preposterous. Unfortunately, preposterous inventiveness does not a good movie make, and while Scott may have out done himself when it came to set design and innovative plot twists, Robin Hood in the end failed to hit its mark.


What did you think of Scott's latest? Inspired, or just another hack job from the once king of the sci-fi epic? Let me know, and please click the "share" button below.

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