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Thursday, May 20, 2010 11:23 am

Robin Hood hits the bullseye

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Prequels have always struck me as nothing more than a desperate attempt by film studios to milk the last dollar out of a previous successful film. (Butch and Sundance: The Early Days anyone?) And while Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood is not technically a prequel, it does strive to fill in some of the gaps in the famed outlaw’s mythology, telling us how and why he became the outlaw of Sherwood Forest. It’s a bold step, particularly in today’s movie market when the largest demographic of filmgoers probably couldn’t tell you the difference between Kevin Costner and Errol Flynn. Yet, if anyone can ignite interest in the Robin Hood legend for a new generation it’s Scott and Russell Crowe as they take a Gladiator type vibe and put a gritty, more realistic spin on the tale. The result is a film with a far more humanistic perspective.

Screenwriter Brian Helgeland begins the tale with Robin (Crowe) in the service of King Richard (Danny Huston) who is waging war against the French on his return from the Crusades. The monarch’s unexpected death throws his army into disarray, causing Robin and his cohorts Little John (Kevin Durand), Will Scarlet (Scott Grimes) and Allan A’Dayle (Alan Doyle) to return to England on their own. Along the way, they run afoul of a plot to have the king’s crown, which is being returned to his mother, stolen by Sir Godfrey (Mark Strong), who is in league with the French. Robin foils this scheme and winds up making a promise to the dying Sir Robert Loxley (Douglas Hodge), who was charged with guarding the crown, to return the sword he took from his father many years ago and make amends for him.

This is only the tip of the iceberg that is the film’s plot, but it is the key element. This oath sends Robin down the hero’s path, one that he’s unwilling to travel. Upon returning the sword he meets Loxley’s widow, Marian (Cate Blanchett), and his father Sir Walter (Max von Sydow), and realizes they are about to lose their vast estate as a result of being overtaxed. Reluctantly, Robin and his men take up arms against King John’s (Oscar Isaac) tax collectors, with the help of the new friar of the district, Tuck (Mark Addy).

Before this epic comes to a close, the French land on English soil and Scott pulls out all the stops to deliver some impressive battle sequences that underscore the carnage wrought by primitive warfare. Whether this film version is more historically accurate than previous entries is probably impossible to determine. However, what makes this a welcome addition to the Robin Hood film canon is that it provides a worthy origin to the character. Here he is an unwilling hero, one who simply wants to return home and live in peace, but finds himself drawn into a struggle he knows is true and just. The character’s memories of his father, long repressed but brought forth by trauma, provide the film’s most emotional moment, when Robin discovers he cannot escape his fate. He freely embraces his destiny to become the noble man his country needs.

Crowe does a wonderful job, exuding doubt then grasping the reins to defeat the enemy, while Blanchett provides the sort of strong female lead a performer of his nature needs, though I could have done without her suiting up for the final battle. Von Sydow is great as well, providing the kind of strong presence needed as Robin’s conscience. These three humanize the legend and that, along with Scott’s flair for the visual, helps make this Robin Hood a worthy starting point for discovering the legend.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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