Apparently, everything we know about Robin Hood is wrong, or so Ridley Scott would have us believe. Sure, there are hundreds of different versions of the Robin Hood myth, and Scott himself recently directed a documentary on the myth's origins, but Scott's feature-film take introduces us to a completely different Robin, one with a different last name and a different path to folk-hero status. And you know what? I like this one better.
What if Robin was not the son of a nobleman, but a common archer named Robin Longstride, who ran con games for money and was thrown in the stocks for telling King Richard that the Crusades were a bad idea? What if he escaped, and assumed the identity of Sir Robert Loxley only after he found the knight dying and promised to return the man's sword to his father? And what if the father asked Robin to stay on as his son, to pull a Sommersby on the authorities and allow his son's childless widow to inherit his property? These are the new facts of Robin's history that Scott wants us to accept, and he makes them go down easy by stocking the cast with familiar characters and great actors, then cutting the brutal action with occasional moments of levity. Why it works here and not in Antoine Fuqua's King Arthur has everything to do with Russell Crowe's skills as an actor, Scott's talents as a director, and Brian Helgeland's talents as a screenwriter. (The man wrote the brilliant medieval dramedy A Knight's Tale -- do I need to weave you a tapestry?)
That cast, by the way, should be illegal. Max Von Sydow and Cate Blanchett have a great rapport as Loxley's father and wife, and are alternately witty and moving. Danny Huston as King Richard is beardedly morose, and Mark Strong glowers as the traitorous Godfrey. Robin's Merry Men are merry, indeed -- Kevin Durand, Scott Grimes and Mark Addy (a Knight's Tale alum, of course) kept me in stitches as Little John, Will Scarlet and Friar Tuck, respectively. (Little John bellowing "It's proportionate!" at Friar Tuck when questioned about his nickname is a cheap laugh, but well worth the penny.) William Hurt is in the movie, too, but his role could have been played by anyone. And Crowe... well, Crowe is Crowe, but he plays the role with a resigned sadness and humility, even when taking his comrades' food and money via the three-cups-and-a-ball game, as opposed to the bravado and defiance of his Maximus.
Be warned, the story is pure origin -- aside from the career-defining robbery of a grain transport, Robin does little thievery, aside from identity theft, and is not even declared an "OUTLAAAAWWWW!" until the very end of the film. There are wild boys, left fatherless by the war, who live in the forest and raid barns for food in the night, but they're basically a footnote -- the real villains are those damn French, who attempt to turn the English against each other by having Godfrey and a squad of French soldiers pillage the countryside in the name of the King of England. That's right -- traditional Robin Hood villain Prince John, despite being a jerk of the highest order, was framed! Oscar Isaac is a great John, and he even gets a few redemptive, verging-on-heroic moments late in the film, but he returns to sequel-baiting villainy by the end. Whether a sequel is anticipated, planned or even desired, I have no idea, but I, for one, would love to return to a Sherwood Forest populated with Merry Men like these.
What did you think of Robin Hood? Sound off below, then see our gallery of the Best and Worst Robin Hoods!
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