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The Independent Critic

Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, William Hurt, Max Von Sydow, Matthew Macfadyen, Mark Strong
Ridley Scott
Brian Helgeland, Cyrus Voris, Ethan Reiff, Paul Webb, Tom Stoppard
Rated PG-13
140 Mins.
Universal Pictures

 "Robin Hood (2010)" Review 
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After kicking off the 63rd Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday, Robin Hood (though it should be more accurately called Pre-Robin Hood), enters American theatres hoping to wrestle some coin away from that big bad moviegoing public and return it to its rightful owner, Universal Studios.

Oh, wait.

Well, anyway, Ridley Scott's latest cinematic adventure and collaboration with Russell Crowe is a big and brawny picture with sweeping vistas courtesy of cinematographer John Mathiesen and a penetrating original score from Marc Streitenfeld that makes sure you know exactly when the film's ultra-dramatic moments are going to occur courtesy of its bellowing crescendos and thunderous instrumentals.

Robin Hood, if you haven't gathered, actually takes place when Robin is actually Robin of the Hood (Am I the only one singing "Jenny from the block?") in yet another continuation of Hollywood's latest plot gimmick...the background story.

Think about it. In Rob Zombie's Halloween remake, we learned how Michael Myers became a killer. In Jackie Earle Haley's turn as Freddie Krueger, we learn even more about Freddie's background. What once felt like a refreshingly original idea, revealing the creation of the character, has now become methodical and predictable and stale.

Enter Robin Hood.

Russell Crowe's Robin Hood, 'er Robin of the Hood, actually starts off the flick as somewhat of a baddie fighting with King Richard the Lion-Hearted (Danny Huston). Rather quickly, so as not to paint the good ole' Robin of the Hood as too much of a baddie, Robin is accused of a lack of loyalty when he answers King Richard's question with just a bit too much honesty even for a king with a supposed lion heart. When the king is suddenly disposed of, he escapes alongside many of the men who will become his "merry men" and, in short order, assumes the identity of one of his fallen comrades. Honoring a final request from the chap, he attempts to return the man's sword to his father in Nottingham, Sir Walter of Loxley (Max Von Sydow), and the man's widow, Lady Marion (Cate Blanchett).

Before we know it, the crown is returned and the king's brother, a not so benevolent King John (Oscar Isaac) assumes the thrown and Robin must appeal to his heart, with a certain degree of faux success, that unites the English against a potential onslaught by King John's closest friend turned traitor, Godfrey (Mark Strong, in yet another baddie role) and the opportunistic French military.

There will be a climactic battle, another betrayal and, in that grand ole' Hollywood tradition, the perfect set-up for a Robin Hood sequel.

To be fair to both Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett, there's no denying that both performers are the highlights of Robin Hood, a film that works infinitely better when director Ridley Scott gets out of the way, it doesn't happen often, and allows the actors room to actually act. Unfortunately, much of the time, Scott is creating epic battles, castle take-overs and utilizing soaring CGI to illustrate, just in case we don't get it, that Robin of the Hood is one darn fine marksman with his bow and arrow. In their scenes together, we get the distinct feeling that Robin Hood had the potential to be a rather amazing film and easily one of summer 2010's highlights.

Instead, Robin Hood is mediocre at best.

Crowe has proven time and again that he's able to handle these buffed up historical roles filled with macho bravado and epic humanity, though his wildly erratic accent in Robin Hood has been taken to task for both its inaccuracy and inconsistency. Blanchett fares infinitely better in the accent department and, as is nearly always the case, the film works better when Blanchett is on screen.

The first and foremost problem in Robin Hood is that Oscar Isaac (Body of Lies) is woefully miscast or woefully misinterprets as King John, choosing to project an impossible to take serious immaturity that has more swish than sadism to it. On more than one occasion, one is just waiting for Isaac to break out into a rousing version of "Men in Tights," an occasion that would most assuredly have been more entertaining than what actually unfolded. He is matched, unfortunately, note for note by the off-putting performance of Lea Seydoux (Inglourious Basterds) as his French mistress, whose primary method of acting here seems to be matching Isaac pout for pout.

Dependable baddie Mark Strong is as convincingly creepy as ever as the traitorous Godfrey, while Matthew Macfadyen does a decent job in the underwritten role of the Sheriff of Nottingham. On the other side, Max Von Sydow shines despite being given some of the film's most insipid dialogue.

Given that Robin Hood is really only planting the story of how the legend of Robin Hood actually began, only introductory attention is largely paid to his band of supporting players. Little John (Kevin Durand, Legion) gets the most attention, and Durand makes the most with a performance that reveals a nice chemistry between he and Crowe that should have some spark to it should a sequel occur. Mark Addy (television's Still Standing) is a hoot as Friar Tuck and William Hurt is fine as William Marshal.

At 140 minutes, Robin Hood feels excessively long with violence that most assuredly maxes out its PG-13 rating. While Scott definitely emphasizes action over humanity, there are moments, fleeting ones, of humanity that are memorable in the film and a few outright laughs that make you wish that Scott would have trusted his actors enough to let go of the reins a bit.

Arthur Max's production design nicely creates a post-Crusades England, though the film's CGI and special effects feel unnecessary and distracting much of the time with Scott too frequently leaning on extended shots of Robin's master archery. It's difficult to know whether to blame dialect coach Andrew Jack or the director himself for the film's distractingly inconsistent vocal work throughout the cast, with Crowe and Blanchett modeling an attempt at old English while folks like Macfadyen slip in and out of ancient and contemporary vocalizations.

There's no doubt that some of you will be enamored enough by the film's large scale and epic battles that such things as slipshod vocal work and a few off-putting performances aren't likely to distract you. By all means, enjoy. For the rest of us, it will be difficult to sit through a film in which so many quirky and unnecessary pieces all add up to a puzzle that can't possibly be put together.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic