Monday, May 17, 2010

Review - Robin Hood

A prequel story that outlines Robin Longstride's rise to becoming England's legendary Robin Hood. Fighting for King and country in France alongside Richard the Lion Heart, Longstride an excellent archer, witnesses the death of his King. With self preservation in mind and nothing left to fight for, Robin along with his friends Will Scarlett, Little John and Allan A'Dayle flee France returning home to England. The band of men however, quickly learn that Prince John has decided to lay a heavy royal tax upon the people of England. A tax that is forcing the country of England against its newly appointed King and giving France further opportunity to seize the crippled country.

The legend of Robin Hood is one that has been told numerous times through various forms including books, songs and films. Nearly every generation has heard or seen the tale told through a different means dating all the way back to the 15th century, but this latest embodiment is a whole different telling to the English folk hero. This version is in fact, a prequel that leads up to the legend we are so familiar with.

Director Ridley Scott delivers a epic no nonsense chronicling of the actions that led to the legend of Robin Hood. "Robin Hood" not only sets up the legend, but it also does a admirable job of illustrating the power struggle within the country of England during the late 12th and 13th centuries. I found specific fascination with the representations of both King Richard The Lionheart and Prince John. We've all seen King John greedy and conniving previously, but never before have I seen The Lionheart shown so convincingly withdrawn. His wartime campaigns abroad have been lengthy and brutal on him, not to mention his country and actor Danny Huston does a marvelous job portraying this absence on screen.

Screenwriter Brian Helgeland deserves a ton of credit for the script he's penned. Originally based on the Sheriff of Nottingham, the script followed the Sheriff as he used period forensics to track Robin Hood. For multiple reasons, including director Ridley Scott's mentoring, that script has now all but vanished leaving a highly engaging and detailed prequel in its place. Helgeland's script remains historically accurate to the events taking place in 13th century England while weaving in the legend of Robin Hood. Helgeland's script is very much the most realistic approach to a true origin story surrounding Robin Hood.

The film does an absolute job of setting the stage to the origin. Universal Pictures and Ridley Scott spared no expense and it is evident from opening titles to the closing credits. Absolutely fantastic look, scope, size and execution. "Robin Hood" has perfect locations throughout that are dressed with stunning CGI to create a flawless 13th century England. The authenticity of the costumes are glorious. Everyone from King Philip of  France all the way down to the peasants looked immaculate.

The cinematography throughout "Robin Hood" is eye-catching. John Mathieson once again shows his masterful eye behind the camera. Mathieson does a phenomenal job capturing the magnitude of "Robin Hood," especially in all of the thrilling action sequences. We've all seen medieval fighting sequences before, but Ridley Scott and Mathieson do a staggering job of setting and capturing the massive battles. I was elated with the arrow cam we get a few glimpses of. The technique was thankfully not overused, so when we do see it utilized, it is jaw dropping.

Another aspect of "Robin Hood" that is ultimately staggering is the exceptional cast. The entire group of actors do a unmarred job. Without any hesitation, I say this is the best all around group of actors I've seen work together this year. Russell Crowe is energizing as always as Robin Longstride and his cluster of merry men are his notable counterparts. Scott Grimes is hysterical as the often mouthy Will Scarlet as is Kevin Durand portraying a strong willed Little John and I really got a kick out of Mark Addy as mead friendly Friar Tuck. Crowe, who has proven time and time again himself to be a true master thespian, really works well with the entire cast. His chemistry with his merry men is rock solid, but his on screen moments with Max von Sydow and Cate Blanchett are nomination worthy.

Max von Sydow and Cate Blanchett too are mesmerizing in their performances. I loved von Sydow's charm as Sir Walter Loxley. His scenes on screen are refreshing and do their best to display an older generation fortitude towards the oppression King John symbolizes. Cate Blanchett also is striking as Marion Loxley. Her characters development felt like a noble illustration of women's roles changing even in 13th century England.

My review could not be complete without mentioning the villainy of "Robin Hood." Godfrey, played by Mark Strong is a minimal character, but Strong does a convincing job with his portrayal. Pardon the pun, but Strong is leaving quite the forceful impression with current string of roles. Having just played the baddie in Kick-Ass, Sherlock Holmes and now here in "Robin Hood," Strong has at the very least made a tremendous name for himself. Godfrey is however not the only villain within the action drama. Prince John played Oscar Issac is also weaved in and out as the tyrannous King he becomes. A King who later turns Robin Longstride into an outlaw and legend we all know him as.

Ultimately, the period action feels mistitled. Director Ridley Scott and Universal should have gone with a title that echoed a origin story, instead of another telling of the legend. I myself did not even know going into the movie that it was a prequel. The film is wrongfully advertised as another Robin Hood film, leaving moviegoers to feel robbed by the lack of actual Robin Hood. That said, I felt seeing the precursor to Robin Hood the outlaw and the folk hero was a nice change of pace. Furthermore, I found it refreshing to see a historically accurate account of England and France constant struggle for wealth and power in Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries.

On a final note, I have heard a few notions that "Robin Hood" is too long and becomes a far too drawn out experience (so has this review, perhaps). With a running time of 140 minutes I can understand why some may find this film a little bit long, however in the films defense, I did not find the film slow in the slightest. I actually found it quite the opposite. While the film does not move at a break neck speed, it does have well timed action sequences that keep the more political aspects and character developments of the script moving forward. Lastly, the origin to Robin Hood is no simple story and telling that story takes some time, a story that Ridley Scott nailed in sensational fashion.