Friday, May 14, 2010

Robin Hood: Sowing the seeds of pseudo socialism in a not terribly merry old England

In these times of economic uncertainty it’s reassuring to know that way back in days of yore really good-looking men and women of courage, honesty, and sound grooming stood up against simpering pansy monarchs and really ugly Frenchmen and shot razor-sharp kindling through their ugly-ass necks in the hope of installing some primitive form of socialism in a largely grubby agrarian world. Or maybe it’s supposed to be primitive libertarianism. I mean, who likes taxes? And get a load of all those arrows! The arrow budget for Robin Hood was probably larger than the entire budget for some actual armed revolutions, but what, did you think this was a Ken Loach film?

Helmed by Ridley Scott, written by sledgehammer screenwriter Brian Helgeland, and starring Scott’s favoured gladiator and co-producer Russell Crowe, this
Robin Hood goes back to the roots of the legend, I guess, with His Majesty’s archer Robin Longstride (Crowe, fierce, rugged, kind of bland) coming home from the Crusades to an England in chaos, with a new, really dumb king (Oscar Isaac, shouty, pouty, grating) trying to bleed his citizenry for a few more goblet studs and a two-timing royal advisor pal (Mark Strong, pleasingly evil) quietly trying to sneak the French over for a major invasion. Robin heads to Nottingham to deliver a dead man’s sword to his dad (Max von Sydow, having a hoot playing older and frailer than he really is) and winds up impersonating the dead man so as to assure that the land stays in the family once dad dies and his lovely daughter-in-law Marian (Cate Blanchett, trying her darndest) is left on her own, a proto-feminist about eight centuries too early to get what’s rightfully hers. Screwball flirtations bubble up between Robin and his faux-bride, the taxmen come to pillage and destroy, the Frenchies are crossing the Channel, and the rest is history as semi-comprehensible battle sequences, rife with careening crane shots. And arrows.

Okay, actually the rest involves cartloads of exposition you’ll never quite piece together, completely unnecessary flashbacks to Robin's misremembered childhood, cornball dialogue, big speeches rife with empty rhetoric, and Scott and company’s best attempt at re-doing the storming of the beach in Normandy from
Saving Private Ryan. Only fitfully diverting, this adventure epic is far too bloated to be as rousing as it wants to be. Scott’s an old hand with managing elaborate set pieces, but the results don’t feel inspired this time out. His brother Tony always gets dissed for being the lesser, more vulgar director, but, you know what, stupid as it was, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 was a lot more fun.

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