I wasn't well disposed towards this film when I first heard it was being made. Yet another film about Robin Hood? Please! But when a director (Ridley Scott) has made one of your favourite films (Blade Runner) you kind of feel you owe them the benefit of the doubt...besides, I had a free ticket to the preview screening at Brixton's Ritzy Cinema on 12th May.
But this isn't the Robin Hood story we're all familiar with, it's his back story, how he came to be an outlaw in the woods fighting injustice. There's a pompous little message at the start about how times of tyranny and injustice call outlaws into being. Seems like 12th Century England was a miserably unjust place where taxation on the poor subsidised the follies of the rich (not much change there then...).
After a strange little prologue featuring Marion, (Cate Blanchett), who isn't a Maid in this version, skilfully seeing off raiders who try to rob her home, the action moves to France where King Richard's armies are plundering and despoiling their way back from the crusades. There we meet Robin (Russell Crowe) who is gathering around him the men who will form his Merry Men. And one of them is that funny red haired guy, Dr Morris out of ER, with the worst Welsh accent I ever heard. But that's quite in keeping with the other dreadful accents in this movie...fake East Midlands for the most part that veers between Irish, Scouse and something vaguely northern.
Richard isn't the noble, splendid king of the familiar legend, a strong theme of the film is that the powerful generally abuse their power for their own ends. Robin returns to England and, with echoes of Sommersby and Martin Guerre, assumes another's identity and fights for the rights of the downtrodden common man. Fathers and sons are another strong theme: Richard, the absent father of his people, Robin's father absent since his childhood, and Robin's father/son relationship with the wonderful Max Von Sydow, who plays Sir Walter Loxley.
Comparisons with Gladiator are inevitable, given the pairing of Scott and Crowe and a film about a historical hero. But where Gladiator's Maximus is a single minded, focused tragic hero, Robin is more morally ambiguous. He fights for the poor, but he doesn't mind robbing corpses and stealing an identity. He does become more moral, but the lever for this change is not emphasised enough. There are way too many plot strands going on to build the same intensity of atmosphere that Gladiator had.
But the recreation of mediaeval England is lovely at times, and fans of Crowe's rough hewn brand of masculinity will enjoy the 'money' shot, where Blanchett helps him off with his chain mail before he takes a bath. Overall rating, it tries hard, but for me it didn't work so well. After more than 2 hrs, it was either stay for another noisy, confusing battle scene, or get the train home. Guess which I did?