Saturday, February 12, 2011

Robin Hood starring Russell Crowe is a great movie

I recall that director Ridley Scott's Robin Hood starring Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett was much maligned when it was released in 2010. After watching it last night, I can say that it was totally undeserving of its unenthusiastic reviews.

I guess that perhaps the theatrical version had problems because the director's cut I watched was very engaging, exceedingly well done by many measures, and never boring through the enter two and half hours.

This version of Robin Hood presents events from Robin's life leading up to his condemnation as an outlaw. The story opens with Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) marching through France with Richard the Lionhearted's army as it returns from a Crusade. Richard is assassinated and Robin comes across the King's slain honor guard and encounters the dying Robert of Loxley. Loxley beseeches Robin to take his sword back to his father, Walter in Nottingham. Robin grants Loxley's dying wish, but he and his companions also loot the bodies of the King's guards and assume the identities of knights returning from a Crusade. Robin takes the identity of Robert Loxley and delivers the sword to Walter Loxley. Walter appreciates Robin's honorable act and proposes that Robin continue the ruse of being Robert. Walter desperately needs a male heir to defend his Nottingham estate. Robert's abandoned wife and now widow, Marion (Cate Blanchett), is incensed but trapped by the circumstances.

I loved this approach to the Marion character. Instead of Maid Marion, she was the wife who had been on her own for 10 years while Robert was crusading. She was a strong and resourceful woman running the estate because Walter was ailing and blind. She is intelligent, able to fight, and skilled in herbcraft. She is often depicted gathering herbs in the forest and giving medicine to sick boys. Many scenes reveal her lovely little touches, like a bouquet a fresh flowers on a table obviously picked by her. Marion is an interesting character in this version of Robin Hood instead of a boring damsel in distress.

Aside from the enhancements to Marion's character, the movie is packed with politics, intrigues, and fight scenes. I don't think Robin Hood gets to go a day without fighting for his life. There is a plot by the French King to invade England with the aid of an English traitor Godfrey. King John is appropriately reprehensible. Also woven into the plot is the rising discontent of the barons as they foment what will eventually become the famous claiming of their rights in the Magna Carta.

The well-loved character of Friar Tuck has a small role in the story, but he is presented with great care. In one scene he is moving around hives of bees to help pollinate fruit trees. The movie is packed with authentic details like this. The production team worked very hard on Robin Hood to create settings that truly illustrated Medieval life. As usual, Friar Tuck is also shown to be the only man of the cloth in the Catholic Church with any redeeming qualities.

Russell Crowe plays Robin Hood in an understated way, which might have bothered some people who wanted a more traditional presentation of the character. However Russell Crowe is very pleasing as Robin Hood. His strength and quality come through in every scene, and the sexual tension between him and Marion when he asks her for help removing his chainmail is marvelously restrained. In a very subtle way, his delight in banditry comes through as well. He is a man who will do what is necessary and damn the consequences.

As a work of historical fiction, Ridley Scott's Robin Hood is splendid, intelligent, and exciting. I can't speak for the theatrical version, but I gladly recommend watching the director's cut.