Sunday 1 July 2012

Robin Hood (2010) - Ridley Scott

If, like me, Prometheus has put you in a Ridley Scott mood, then don't miss his oft-forgotten Robin Hood - Scott's last film before his latest slice of sci-fi.  Robin Hood follows in the footsteps of Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven as another swords-and-sandals affair.

Scott's film is a precursor to the legend of yore - it even ends with the line "and so the legend begins".  As such, this is a different take on the traditional story, a million miles away from Disney's foxy hero and much closer to Antoine Fuqua's attempt to portray a historically accurate King Arthur in 2004.  Robin Longstride, a soldier in King Richard the Lionheart's army, returns from the Crusades to a very different England than before.  It's a land split by conflict, each man fighting for himself, ruled by a King who cripples his people with taxes and lacks the necessary fortitude to unite his people.

That said, this is a merry little English tale that's much lighter in tone than Gladiator.  The plot moves at a brisk pace, deftly switching between narrative strands.  The characters as a whole are rather one-dimensional, but the script is surprisingly filled with enough witty humour to keep viewers entertained.  This is accented by Marc Streitenfeld's playful folk score, which doesn't hit the emotional heights of his music for Gladiator, but balances jaunty melodies with epic scope.

The payoff is an absence of tension. The narrative feels shallow when compared to the political intrigue and powerful redemption story at the heart of Gladiator, or the religious implications of Kingdom of Heaven. There is little characterisation of the French King and his army, leaving Mark Strong's deceitful Godfrey as the sole villain. "Soldiers fight for a don't have one", Robin tells the runaways of Sherwood. Yet at times this applies to Robin himself, his character lacking the focus and determination of Maximus Decimus Meridius.

It's easy to read the story as a parable for today's banking crisis and high taxes, yet Scott's interests lie elsewhere. On an intimate level, the film emphasises the importance of family, specifically the father-son bond that exists even beyond death. More so, the key theme is the true meaning of leadership. Where King John leads through power and money, King Richard the Lionheart before him led by example in valour and bravery.

This extends to Russell Crowe's Robin, a natural leader who is easy to root for. Though a battle-worn soldier, he is warm-hearted and benevolent. This bleeds into the battle scenes, which are decidedly one-sided. There is little danger present, but with Robin at the helm the action is an enjoyable rollick, with all the slow-motion archery you'd expect. There's a hint of Lord of the Rings, too, in the epic scope of the final battle, with Cate Blanchett's sword-wielding Marion a sororal relative to Eowyn.

It's the visuals that leave a lasting impression, though, as you'd anticipate from a Ridley Scott film. Robin Hood is majestically shot, the French and English countryside filled with lush meadows, verdant woodland, sun-kissed beaches and imposing medieval fortresses brimming with historical detail. And at the close, the end credits are presented with stunning painterly art. It's just a shame that, by comparison, the narrative lacks the same depth as present in the rest of Scott's oeuvre.