Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Robin Hood (2010)

* *

(Dir. Ridley Scott, 2010)

After years of Crusading, the King of England (Richard the Lionheart) is killed in battle, and Robin Longstride ('Robin Hood') sails home, crown in arm, assuming the identity of the also recently deceased, Robert Loxley. In a public ceremony outside the Tower of London, Longstride (now Loxley) presents the crown to a widowed Queen and the heir to the throne, her son, John. Encouraged by the blind and frail Sir Walter Loxley, Longstride continues to pose as his son, and begins to pursue proto-feminist widow, Maid Marion (Cate Blanchett), with the two strangers forced to act as husband and wife.

Complicated? Different from Kevin Costner and Disney? Refreshingly so. The director of Alien, Thelma & Louise and Gladiator here eschews a fabula of a multiple narrative so that he might transform Robin Hood-fun into serious epic cinema. However, the execution is lazy and the irrevocable consequences, disastrous.

The score is the first and final point of damage, ebbing in gross disproportion to the sentiment on screen: composer Marc Streitenfeld's untimely guitar-folk seems closer to Nizlopi than something out of the twelfth century, while his choral offering of white-horse-riding-elf-grief trespasses amateurishly on the barley of Gladiator. We know Russell Crowe plays the wise macho hero superbly, or any other lead for that matter. You name it, Crowe will nail it, so to speak. His angry-dog eyes bite naturally onto a gaze that betrays both will of vengeance and burden of a miserable past. Add a charming Cate Blanchett and a treasurable Albion-landscape, and there was enough here to stop me from walking out.

Undoing Crowe's good work is a funny accent, deliberate or not (Scott is possibly referring to Longstride's homelessness), travelling south from Ireland to Somerset, and then we're up north with Geoff Boycott before Alan Shearer gets involved, and the whole audio experience becomes extremely disarming. Surprisingly, the two and a half hour running time travels fast, the most memorable quotation is Blanchett's brilliant: "I sleep with a dagger. If you so much as move to touch me, I will sever your manhood". More wit, and the proposed sequel could be worth a watch.

Remove Gladiator and its legacy from our consciousness, then might a wave of scholastic, Scott-Crowe admiration be sweeping across cinephilic Britain right now? Not a chance. That Robin Hood is 'derivative' is no automatic flaw. A canon - or simply, the past - is compulsory in any creation; artistic inspiration is a quiet flame even in our darkest moments. No, the film fails because Ridley Scott has accidentally kindled this sanctuary of influence into a deafening forest-fire, scorching, self-referentially, his best work, and even the facilely recognisable and relatively recent blockbuster epics by peers, Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg, Lord of the Rings (an out-of-place hobbit mien is on tap) and Saving Private Ryan (the chaos of D-Day is repatched ineffectually).

Like an artist more interested in the colours on his palette than in what the painting before him means, Scott has lost his way. Powerless, and the last thing he wanted his Robin Hood to be - unoriginal, this latest offering from such a quotable source is a steep fall into shadows and dust.

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