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|Cinema Signal: This is a GO! for strong elements of epic action, superb acting and a romance you want more of.|
The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood: Of Great Renown in Nottinghamshire
by Howard Pyle
(Classic reprint in a Discounted Paperback from Amazon)
It isn't very often that you can be glad the film wasn't made as it was originally conceived and scripted. What did turn out under a great creative team led by director Ridley Scott is far more sensible in terms of tampering with tradition, literary popularizing, and other adventures in revisionism. They recently "modernized" "Sherlock Holmes." In the shadow of that exploit, does this turn out to be the reconception of the legendary archer with an altruistic bent?
According to the record, it was Crowe, himself, who rejected the script he was first handed, which had him playing the Sheriff of Nottingham, Robin Hood's arch enemy. Thanks, then, to his perception and taste for the rewrite that tells a far different story.
Afterward, he assumes leadership of archer mates who want to return home after ten years of such work. They set out and encounter a forest ambush of the king's guards, led by villainous Sir Godfrey (current go-to guy for powerful villainy, Mark Strong, "Sherlock Holmes"). Gaining the advantage, Longstride's band dispatches most of the ambushers. Unfortunately, Sir Godfrey manages an escape. But now we see what Longstride can do. With uncanny aim, calculating wind and the pattern of intervening trees as the villain is making his getaway, he doesn't kill Sir Godfrey, but his arrow does put a mark on his face that won't soon go away.
It's a shot that foreshadows an even greater one at another critical time.
But, this is a turning point. They check out the dead and find the primary purpose of the aborted mission: the cargo is nothing less than the king's crown. Mortally wounded, Sir Robert Loxley, one of the king's guards, pleads with Longstride to represent himself as Loxley and return a sword with a fascinating inscription on the hilt to his blind father in Nottingham. The purpose of such a charade would be to save the family and its wealth from certain destruction if it were learned that Loxley himself were dead.
Not a vow to be taken lightly, and not a likely decision for a man with home on his mind. But the special sensitivity of our hero toward others, that will later turn into a form of altruism--if this tradition is respected by future writers--leads to his not only making the promise but finding a way to motivate his little band who are not of such a temperament as he. Still, this foretells the early formation of the famed Merry Men.
However crass and unschooled these battle-scarred fighters may be, give them the right motivation and they follow his lead with relish. Longstride, now Sir Loxley, wonders how their fortunes would turn if they returned to England wearing the suits of armor of the dead knights all around them. To wear the duds of noblemen is half the battle of being accepted as one. Nobody's keeping records, eh?
There's great unrest in London and the news of Richard's death is delivered to the court by the new Sir Loxley upon delivering the most welcome crown. This immediately leads to the crowning of King John (disastrously impulsive Oscar Isaac), Richard's younger brother. Immediately proclaiming the need for more wealth for his kingdom, the scarred Sir Godfrey whispers the suggestion in the royal's ear that he be commissioned to ride north with a platoon of men to collect more taxes on the already overburdened populace. The king is pleased with the idea and Godfrey is quickly off on a mission of destruction in the name of taxation. But this violence upon the people is soon outdone by his betrayal of the crown. He's in cahoots with the French King who is ready to advance on England as soon as he hears that the country is sufficiently defenseless under the hapless direction of the inept new king.
So much for the film's historical/political framework. The emotional heartbeat is what happens on the human side. Loxley convinces his purported father to accept him as his son returned whole from the crusades; he discovers his beauteous daughter maid Marion (Cate Blanchett), who turns out to be a fiery lady running the Loxley holdings with no quarter asked nor given. Sir Loxley, being the sexy and gentle warrior that he is, slowly realizes how important she becomes to him and wins the lady's heart.
Perhaps it was the confusion of the rewrites but, while the storytelling and direction has plenty of muscle, this "Robin Hood" would have been much improved had the balance between the personal and the grand-scale politics of the time leaned more toward the former. Here, we have these two stunning actors creating characters with strengths and potentials that command fascination, and we're mired in the power plays and betrayals of the kingdom. Would it have been so bad to make us pant a little as this relationship grew more intimate? Could not Crowe and Blanchett have brought some sensual sparks into the context?
Ridley Scott is a director who doesn't often miss the essentials of humanity (distinct from the action component) that make a story memorable and, in Brian Helgeland ("Mystic River") he had a screenwriter to aid the quest. From the get-go, they aimed for a reboot of the legend--an approach I look on with some trepidation. Their originality led to considerable excitement in casting and performance, but for me and others with a similar reaction, they failed to recognize that the personal relationship at the center of the drama screamed for more screen time and exploration at the expense of the political framework they became too fixated on. A fuller understanding of this key relationship would pay off well in an inevitable sequel.
Again, the resolution doesn't suggest the future social activist fugitive and model of altruism re-engineering class structure through thievery-- the character whom we all expect. You would have thought that, since the idea of him becoming Sheriff of Nottingham (his traditional pursuer) was dropped, there would be some foreshadowing of his future role in the kingdom.
Putting aside such carps, Scott's work in other areas is exemplary. "Robin Hood" might not boast some of the visual originality of his and Crowe's prior collaboration in "Gladiator," such as the rain of blood backlit by the afternoon sun in the stadium, but his eye for action choreography and feel for the dynamism of exceptional characters is all there. As much a technical director as any other kind, he ensures a level of creative genius behind the camera as well, notably in a collaboration with cinematographer John Mathiesen ("Gladiator"), whose work brings in the great tonality and texture of a period epic.
Eighty One year-old Max von Sydow has fewer acting niches to fill any more than in his earlier years, but that hasn't seemed to slow him down--nor should it. His perfect understanding of his role of grief-stricken father and defender of his property is astute, and results in never-ending coloration of the landed elder: the irascible wit, the political gamesmanship, the depth of experience and philosophy.
Crowe fills the role with his trademark masculinity and, once again, it's great to be with him. I'd only wish for about an eighth of Johnny Depp's rascality in a portrayal of a man with so much magnitude. Blanchett comes up with a rendering of an original woman who is every bit his pefect mate.
~~ Jules Brenner