Sunday, October 24, 2010

Russell Crowe's Robin Hood

Reviews of Robin Hood have been quite mixed. I come down on the positive side.

My experience of the movie suggests that the biggest cause of poor reviews might be expectations. Robin Hood is an icon: Lincoln green, pointy hats, feats of archery, Sherwood forest with his merry outlawed men, the lovely maid Marian, disguises and tricks against the rich and powerful, particularly the love-to-hate-him Sheriff of Nottingham, and the hope of King Richard the Lionheart coming home to save the kingdom from his evil brother John.

Russell Crowe's Robin Hood has very little of these stock features. Robin Longstride is an archer, in the king’s service, but we barely see that. He spends the movie not in Sherwood, but at the Crusades and in the village of Nottingham, wearing the standard russets and browns of the day, not a stitch of green, no pointy hat. He has only a few men: Little John, who is not quite so overbearingly large as previous incarnations of the story suggest, but only a little taller than average; Allan a Dale, Will Scarlet, and Friar Tuck, who really is not one of his men at all in this movie. Marian is a nearly middle-aged, overworked woman coping almost single-handedly with her blind father-in-law, the running of a manor and small village, and thievery both of run-amok orphans living in Sherwood and the English authorities, while her husband Robert of Locksley has been at war for a decade. King Richard is dead; and definitely not coming home to save the kingdom.



The Sheriff of Nottingham makes only a cursory appearance or two. The real villain, Godfrey, is busy pitting the barons against the new king, John, while plotting with Phillip of France to step into the disarray and make an easy conquest of England.

As to the wonderful hi-jinks and disguises that are an integral part of the Robin Hood story, they are also nearly non-existent here. Robin Longstride, archer, is honest with the Locksley family--widow Marian and her father-in-law--about who he is. It is the father-in-law's idea for him to become the long-absent and now dead Robert of Locksley and help the family. From there on, apart from assuming the dead man's identity, Robin lives in the open, no disguises, and apart from stealing back the grain being stolen from Marian by the authorities, there is no stealing from the rich. Until the last 5 minutes, Robin and his men are not outlaws at all.

Once I stopped expecting the standard elements, I appreciated the new take on the old story. I felt the characters came alive as real people, more genuine than the stock characters we know. (I have to admit, I have always wondered how a bunch of men living in the forest managed to have so much lincoln green material on hand to make matching outfits.) I felt I could relate to them better because they were no longer larger-than-life, but ordinary men thrust into extraordinary events, which allows us to ask the question that makes stories an important part of life: what would I, no legend, but an ordinary person, do in such a situation? It allows us to look into possible futures and think beforehand about who we want to be at such moments. It allowed me to see very clearly how the legend of Robin Hood might have sprung from an ordinary man.

As a historical novelist, I enjoyed the attention to detail: how a siege is conducted, how Marian rides her horse. Robin Hood tales often portray Richard being absent while held captive and awaiting ransom, and returning to England to free the nation from the evil John's tyranny. The movie depicts Richard dying in battle, killed by a cook, and leaving the kingdom to John. It turns out this is a fairly historically accurate--and fascinating--detail. (On the other hand, historical records report that Richard was a man of mercy, forgiving the boy with the pan who killed him, while the movie portrays him as less than that, setting Robin and several others in stocks, awaiting flogging and branding, for Robin's crime of voicing an opinion for which King Richard asked.)

The name Robin Hood probably drew plenty of viewers. But it also probably left many disappointed, as it was not what they expected. I briefly thought the producers might have gotten better reviews with the same exact movie had they simply not named the characters Robin, Will, Allan, John, Marian, and Friar Tuck, and thus avoided the problem of expectations. In the last 10 minutes of the movie, however, when John reneges on his word and outlaws Robin instead, it became clear that the real answer was to call this movie Robin Hood: The Prequel, for this is what it is. This, as they say, is just the beginning.

Plans for a sequel are up in the air, although the ending of Robin Hood clearly begs for one. If it materializes, I would definitely see it. I also expect I will watch this movie again, and enjoy it more a second time, knowing what to expect. If you like Robin Hood, if you like war , adventure, and action, or historical movies, I recommend this one. Just go in with the proper expectations.

2 comments:

  1. I agree. I really enjoyed the film and look forward to the sequel. Wiki provides more details about historical inaccuracies (e.g., France's war to regain their own land; John's signing of the Magna Carta, etc.). Regardless, I appreciated someone taking a stab (pun intended) at what happened before Robin Hood was running around in tights in the woods. In fact, it vests more interest in the characters, as well as what ultimately happens to them. It's a favorite story of mine too, so the more I learned about the characters, the better.

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  2. Hi, godisabrowngirltoo,

    Thanks for stopping by. Robin Hood has been one of my favorite stories for years, and it was interesting to see the suggestion of what happened beforehand. Thanks for mentioning the wiki article. I'd love to learn more about the time. It's just a little before the time in which I write.

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