Russell Crowe plays Ridley Scott’s everyman again—this time with arrows
By Armond White
At a reported cost of over $200 million, according to the London Telegraph, Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood refutes the old altruistic axiom “rob from the rich and give to the poor.” All the charm and meaning has been taken out of this reboot. It’s now a “history,” opening with a detailed inscription to establish the 12th-century tale’s seriousness: “In times of tyranny and injustice, where law oppresses the people, the rebel takes his place in history.” In other words, Gladiator II.
Russell Crowe once again plays Scott’s everyman hero who rises above his taciturn machismo to avenge dreadful memories—clever shtick for the wealthy duo that like to pretend they’re doing something besides just raking it in.
Their nouveau-riche narcissism imagines having a populist purpose, yet the clichés of Robin Longstride’s archery skills, put to use in the English army’s campaign against the French while, back home, Marian Locksley (ludicrous Cate Blanchett) tills her impoverished, overtaxed fields, don’t speak for the people, except in distant, almost invisible metaphor. And the motto these oppressed Brits live by (“Arise and arise until lambs become lions”) isn’t about Tea Party insurrection; it merely replaces poetic generosity with vengeance.
Scott and Crowe return to Gladiator’s violent formula because the high-life confessions of their A Good Year collaboration didn’t click. But they also seem to be chasing after Antoine Fuqua (the director Scott replaced on American Gangster) in the way Robin Hood repeats the insipid realism of Fuqua’s 2004 King Arthur, the grungy, anti-poetic reboot of Arthurian tales. Both films represent a dullard’s version of history; Hollywood’s commercial calculation has become so obvious that it removes beauty from storytelling. Screenwriter Brian Helgeland’s period setting over-simplifies the context for violence—reusing his Braveheart formula but without director-star Mel Gibson’s conviction.
Look at Scott’s superficial “beauty”: a couple of dusk landscapes (amazingly subtle lighting by John Mathieson) and a splendid view of French ships roiling on blue, misty waves. But these are not “cinematic” images; they’re mini TV commercials that lack existential vision. Ultra-hack Scott reverts to the slickness of his advertising background. TV imagery has pervaded cinema to the point that Scott doesn’t balance his over-cropped TV-style close-ups with the postcard vistas. Like Gladiator’s jarring F/X, it shows Scott’s disrespect for cinema.
Fake beauty and fake history rob Robin Hood of previous moral value. It’s no longer “legendary” because Scott and Helgeland’s sham realism trivializes history. They pretend how history happened (Monty Python-style) but their embarrassing, anachronistic rip-off of Saving Private Ryan’s beachfront battle scene shows no feeling for how history is constructed and passed down through ritual, repetition and affection. An abstract end-credits sequence is more imaginative (it’s in the style of Scott’s Scott Free company logo). In place of inspiration, Robin Hood has the bloat of a 1960s roadshow presentation: Costly, overlong but with no intermission—or reprieve.
Directed by Ridley Scott
Runtime: 140 min.