So many have taken on the story of Robin Hood and turned it into a movie. We have Errol Flynn flying in on a vine to welcome us to Sherwood Forest. Sean Connery comes back as an older Robin Hood after fighting in two crusades. Mel Brooks made fun of the legend featuring men in tights. There is even a Disney version with a fox as Robin.
With a director like Ridley Scott (“Blade Runner” and “Gladiator”) and a screenwriter like Brian Helgeland (“Mystic River” and “L.A. Confidential”), you would think this version would be great. Sadly, it is not.
“Robin Hood” is plagued by an attempt to update the story. To update a legend means you have to tell it in a new way and risk losing the story’s heart. These fine filmmakers ran that risk – and lost.
Russell Crowe, who is entirely too old for this role, is Robin Longstrides, who fights with King Richard’s (Danny Huston) army returning from the crusades. This Robin is a fine bowsman, which is one of the aspects of the legend that the film gets right. But this Robin misses a bow shot that would have ended the movie in the first act. So much for being the best at something.
Robin returns to England after assuming the identity of a knight named Robert Loxley. Loxley (Douglas Hodge) is returning the crown of King Richard, who died. Loxley is ambushed by men led by Godfrey (Mark Strong), who is allied with King Philip of France. Godfrey also works for Prince John (Oscar Isaac) but is double-crossing John to allow Philip to take over England. This confusing exposition begins the movie.
As the second act begins, we see Robin assuming the role of Robert Loxley. He falls in love with Robert’s widow, Marian (Cate Blanchett). Added to the story is the presence of Loxley’s blind father, played by the great but underused Max Von Sydow.
Add to these the usual cast of characters. There is Little John (Kevin Durand) and the Sheriff of Nottingham (Matthew Macfadyen). But there is nothing more here than political intrigue. Godfrey rides around the countryside with a garrison of French soldiers, burning and pillaging in the name of John.
While this is going on, Robin steals grain from the Church of England with the help of Friar Tuck (Mark Addy). Tuck is a man of the Lord but is not afraid to take arms against the French when they invade. Liberation theology must have begun with him.
What this “Robin Hood” misses is the essence of the legend. Robin is not motivated by anything in this version. He steals from the rich church to give to himself; the grain that he steals is put in fields that he controls. But there is something else missing.
The Robin Hood of legend is motivated by his love of his king. King Richard is what he fights for in the legend. He knows that the government of Prince John is in the wrong and he wants what is right. What is right is the return of King Richard to the throne. The problem here is that King Richard is killed off in the first act. Even Mel Brooks did not make that mistake.
What we have in this Robin Hood is a cross between William Wallace of “Braveheart” and Maximus of “Gladiator.” This Robin is motivated by the politics of the time – not by restoring order through the system at hand, but by changing the system.
Scott brings together a wonderful cast of actors, but he is given a script that looks nothing like the source material. The legend is deconstructed, the story is gutted, and the movie misses the mark.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence including intense sequences of warfare, and some sexual content.
Director: Ridley Scott
Writer: Brian Helgeland
Cast: Russell Crowe: Robin Hood; Cate Blanchett: Marian Loxley; Mark Strong: Godfrey; William Hurt: William Marshal; Oscar Isaac: Prince John; Danny Huston: King Richard; Mark Addy: Friar Tuck; Kevin Durand: Little John.
The movie’s Web site is here.
Michael Parnell is pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is married and has two boys. His love is for movies, and he can be found in a theater most Fridays.