Robin Hood - Before He Was Infamous

BY MICHAEL JOYCE Robin Hood - Before He Was Infamous. Robin Hood. (12A) directed by Ridley Scott. Starring Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Mark Strong, William Hurt, Max Von Sydow, Oscar Isaacs, Eileen Atkins. 140 mins THREE STAR RATING Readers of my little missive in the newspaper m

Robin Hood - Before He Was Infamous.

Robin Hood. (12A) directed by Ridley Scott. Starring Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Mark Strong, William Hurt, Max Von Sydow, Oscar Isaacs, Eileen Atkins. 140 mins ***

Readers of my little missive in the newspaper may have gotten the idea that this was going to be a bad. Turns out that it's actually quite good, in places very good, though perhaps a little muddled. I was going on those telling little signs that only a wise old reviewer could read - the relentlessly bad word of mouth; the distributors not screening it for reviewers until within 24 hours of its release.

Their worry, I guess, is that it may be the Robin Hood nobody really wants. Another year, another Ridley Scott/ Russell Crowe combo (they've managed to release four major motion pictures since the last World Cup) coupled with such an over familiar story generates a tremendous sense of ennui. Their solution is a Robin Hood with all the Robin Hood taken out - which turns out to be Braveheart basically.

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The original script focused on the Sheriff of Nottingham and made Robin a terrorist figure, but that got quickly dumped. (So thorough is the rejection of that idea that in this version the Sheriff, Matthew Macfadyin, barely features and the villain role is passed to ubiquitous baldy screen menace Mark Strong.) Instead we get Robin Hood - Before He Was Infamous, the story from his return after ten years away in the Crusades up to the point he becomes an outlaw.

Now the world needs another Origins movie like it needs another new twist on the vampire myth. It was bold the first few time but the prequel/ reboot has quickly become another Hollywood scam to pass off tired old goods on the public. The validity of making a film about the early days of Hood is further stretched by casting a lead who is approximately the same age Sean Connery was when he played an aging, ready-to-hang-up-his-bow version of the role in Robin and Marion. It's a bit like making Batman Begins with Adam West.

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Crowe though is actually worth making allowances for. You can complain that he's basically doing Maximus again but he does it so well. The whole cast is just about flawless; even Blanchett's interpretation of Maid Marion as the original Iron Lady works because she matches up to Crowe so well.

Green is traditionally the main colour of any Robin Hood but it is used sparingly here. This England is not green and pleasant but grey and overcast, which is appropriate. Scott has made a whole film in the image of the initial Germania battle sequences in Gladiator.

The opening third of the film is very strong. Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston) is killed trying to sack one last Norman castle and as Robin heads home the story about civil war, treachery, French invasion and the fledgling tyranny of the new King John is powerfully set up.

At this point the film seems all geed up and ready to ride but then never really finds a decisive direction to gallop in. Once Robin reaches Nottingham the film becomes patchier. The circumstances that see Robin become Hood are highly contrived and the conflicts are never quite as thrilling as you'd hope. It's also the case that the movie slips close to the realms of parody towards the end.

The film is never quite sure what balance it should strike between gritty historical drama and action romp but Scott again shoots it with his inimitable, relentless competence. Watch this next to Prince of Persia - a joyless, frenetic, random splish splosh of colour and motion applied without thought or purpose - and you will really appreciate a blockbuster film of substance.

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