Sunday, 16 January 2011

Robin Hood [2010]

I avoid blogging about films that I didn't enjoy, not wanting to waste my time when I could be doing something genuinely productive. However, Robin Hood is a film so glib and incomprehensible that it must be explained away. Films this bad should be challenged or we will finally be overwhelmed.

Robin, fastest bow in the west
Robin Hood is an easy film to make: its almost guaranteed to be entertaining family fun, a classic narrative with plenty of adventure and high camp. Essentially a traditional western plot, Robin (the stranger arriving in town), fights the forces of despotic King John (the ruthless land-baron) and his lackey the Sheriff of Nottingham (land-baron's henchman) on behalf of the subjugated locals (impoverished dirt farmers) and Maid Marion (the sexy bar maid/school teacher/farmer's wife/etc). He is the greatest archer around (fastest gun in the west) and he has his merry men to back him up (his posse) including Friar Tuck (drunken git/Walter Brennan role) and Will Scarlet (young rookie/Montgomery Clift/Ricky Nelson).

So how did Ridley Scott manage to make such a dud? The acting is competent enough (Crowe's bizarre accent aside). The visuals are on a grand scale and hard not to like, lots of candle lit interiors and wild English countryside. It is shot well, with the Locksley scenes reminiscent of early Scott works like The Duellists or his Hovis advert in its use of magic hour lighting and sentimentally nostalgic scenes. The plot... well that's the problem. Robin Hood is a text book example of how an unengaging and ludicrous plot can scupper a film, even if it is packed with glossy scenes and A-list actors. The perennial Scott criticism of style over substance is especially justified here, a cheap, common story dressed up to the nines. Robin Hood is all fur-coat and no knickers.

Ahhh, Ye Olde English countryside
 The twist on the classic Robin Hood story in the film is that Robin, on returning from Richard the Lionheart's campaigns in France, has stolen the identity of Robert of Locksley, Richard's right hand man who was killed in an ambush by the inexplicably evil Godfrey (Mark Strong).Godfrey is also mates with Prince/King John, and bends his ear to allow him to maraud across the country collecting much needed tax revenue from the Northern Baron's. However, Godfrey is actually a French agent hired to stir up discontent in the provinces in order to allow the French an opportunity to invade Britains undefended coastline. But Robin witnessed Strong and his band of mercenaries killing Robert Locksley so he has to.... oh whats the point? The story is a mess of convoluted plot lines that you quickly tire of. The first act takes up half of the film, so that the middle of the film hasn't time to create any conflicts or character development and the ending feels like a montage of 'revelations' to mysteries that you don't really care about and are so ridiculous as to defy belief.

The recent trend of every protagonist having a destiny is taken to bathetic heights of trite nonsense. The Magna Carta? Robin's dad came up with that. How will the barons unite to defend Britain? Well only Robin can do that, even though he's only just met them yesterday. The secret link between Max Von Sydow (maid Marian's father-in-law) and Robin? Well  Max was best mates with Robin's dad of course, although Robin has completely forgotten about his childhood and only stumbled upon the Sherwood forest thanks to the guiding hands of fate. Robin even develops a social conscience and keen sense of constitutional law when, incredibly, he arrives late at a forum of the baron's and King John, and sets the King straight with impassioned defence of the rights of the individual. Good God.

The Rt Hon. Robin Hood, MP
 This is such a silly film. The sheriff of Nottingham and Robin's Merry Men don't play any discernible parts in the story and one suspects they were included only because they have to be there - this is Robin Hood after all, isn't it? It takes itself too seriously, there are no characters that the audience can emphasise with and the film is devoid of humour (at least the tremendously camp Prince of Thieves was funny). My advice? Watch an episode of Maid Marian and her Merry Men instead, its well better.

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