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Robin Hood / ** (PG-13)

Posted Sunday, May 23, 2010, at 9:31 AM

Russell Crowe brings us another take on the British legend "Robin Hood".
Universal Pictures and Imagine Entertainment present a film directed by Ridley Scott. Written by Brian Helgeland and Ethan Reiff & Cyrus Voris. Running time: 140 min. Rated PG-13 (for violence including intense sequences of warfare, and some sexual content).

84 titles. That's how many entries are listed on IMdb.com when you run a search on "robin hood". The claim in the trailer for Ridley Scott's new film, "Robin Hood," that it is "the untold story" of the British legend, is a bit of a stretch. Scott's take on the classic character is surprisingly similar to other versions with one major difference, this story takes place before he became known as Robin Hood, which brings the choice of the eponymous title into question.

I suppose another difference with Scott's film is that this is a very serious telling of how a man named Robin Longstride became known first as Robert Loxley, then later Robin of the Hood. This serious tone is really no surprise coming from the same director that also brought us "Gladiator" and "Kingdom of Heaven". This isn't the merry bandit Robin Hood, but the gritty, Crusades warrior, who is sick of sticking his neck out for England only to return to a land of over-taxed poverty.

Once again Scott has tapped Russell Crowe ("State of Play") for his leading man to give it the appropriate weight. Perhaps a bit too much weight. Crowe seems more like a broad swordsman than an archer, but that's splitting hairs, of which Crowe splits a few here along with a cheek. The cheek he splits belongs to Sir Godfrey, Prince John's primary confidant, who happens to be a traitor plotting with the French a secret invasion that will effectively end the British Empire. Robin's traditional foe, the Sherriff of Nottingham, is relegated to a mere cameo here, but Godfrey functions in much the same role as Robin's arch nemesis.

Godfrey, like too many of the roles played by Mark Strong ("Sherlock Holmes"), is evil purely for the sake of being evil, given no reason for being so. There is a scene between Godfrey and France's Prince Philip that so vaguely lays out the rewards Godfrey will gain from his betrayal I'd have to advise him to bring a lawyer to his next set of negotiations.

As Prince John, Oscar Isaac's ("Body of Lies") primary purpose seems to be to one up Godfrey in pure awfulness. I mean this must have been one of the worst leaders to ever live. He brings infantile behavior to levels even infants would never contemplate. This cartoonish behavior may have worked perfectly fine in a campier, upbeat version of this story, but in the gritty, war-filled culture presented here, it's hard not to wonder just why these leaders didn't end up with their heads mounted on top of pikes. While the later bandit adventures of Robin Hood stealing from the state and giving to the poor is a noble response to such treatment, it seems hardly enough.

Although the filmmakers seem more interested in creating stunning battle sequences than compelling villains, Scott and screenwriter Brian Helgeland ("A Knight's Tale") do find the time to develop a compelling relationship between Robin and the Lady Marion Loxley. Casting Cate Blanchett ("Elizabeth") as a slightly more empowered Marion is their first smart move. The next is casting Max von Sydow ("Shutter Island") as her father-in-law Sir Walter Loxley, who oddly but sensibly embraces Robin Longstride when he shows up posing as Loxley's deceased son. The best and most lighthearted moments of the movie come in exchanges between Blanchett and Crowe as they must, under Loxley's request, pretend to be husband and wife to keep the tax collectors from seizing all their land.

There are other positive points in the film, like Robin's initial band of merry men. With the help of Friar Tuck (Mark Addy, "The Full Monty") and his bees, they provide a little, but not enough, merriment to the proceedings. Plus, the action sequences are of the same high quality Scott has produced for his long history of military and historical epics. However, the final battle offers the worst offenses of clichéd filmmaking I've ever seen from Scott. The least forgivable is having Lady Marion, a woman with no fighting experience in a time when battle was purely male sport, show up leading a band of child soldiers with similar battle experience into the fray. When Tuck is also seen on the battlefield, it becomes obvious that by the time Scott got to filming the last battle, he wished he had gone the campy route rather than the gritty realism one.

"Robin Hood" is currently playing at Galaxy Cinema in Sedalia.

Visit A Penny in the Well for DVDs, film clips, star rating scale, and my mini-review feature Penny Thoughts.

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Andrew is a professionally trained actor and stage director. He was a reporter for the daily newspaper The Marshall Democrat News. He has been critiquing film since Mr. Lucas released the first of his "Star Wars" prequels in 1999. His reviews can also be seen at his blog site.
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