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Robin Hood ***

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Who, for ten years, has prevented Ridley Scott from making decent films? I want their blood. Once the powerhouse behind some of the most incredibly nuanced, deep, insightful, worlded fiction on film, Scott has become slave to a formula regurgitated from Gladiator, stripped of all aesthetic originality or basic narrative intrigue, and projected at such high resolution you can hardly discern any substance at all. The images, often phenomenally beautiful, remain; the worlds of imagination are conspicuously absent.

From the opening minutes, Robin Hood asserts its fidelity (or at least, resemblance) to historical context: not a problem betwixt forgivable anachronisms aplenty; but a fatal blow considering its central thesis (that Robin of Hood be a proto-republican, sired by the first democratic revolutionary, in the most heavy-handed play at that venomous siren: contemporary relevance). True, Robin has always been a legendary folk hero, an indigenous myth; but how can Scott keep his audience credulous to this preposterous politicisation; or worse, the increasingly unlikely sequence of coincidences characteristic of such fables (integral to their incredible plots) after such an onslaught of medieval realism? Fables cannot be so brutally literal.

In its favour are some excellent performances from a well seasoned cast (really working wonders with what little they are given). We can take particular delight in the lewd period banter, particularly Max von Sydow’s octogenarian ‘tumescence’. Costume and design are predictably dazzling. And perhaps the greatest strength of all? Scott’s vision of the image, and its majestic realisation by John Mathieson (though here our attention is drawn more to set-pieces of battle and landscape than to a preponderance of muddy green woodland). A shame then that the other ingredients are soured.

The story is overlong and yet nothing of particular interest happens – the dense machinations of plot don’t transmute into suspense, pace or tension, at least one of which is essential to drive by-the-numbers action. It becomes hard to stifle a yawn after the first 90 minutes. There’s a dull second act that toys with development of the romantic subplot and whose harrying of the north (a geographically fudged amalgam of Peterborough, Nottingham and York) fails to instil the lust for vengeance that ought to propel a final gruelling hour.

As we’ve seen, what might be a passable script, on the whole, inexplicably morphs into the most banal political-allegorical platitudes precisely at the point where a second-act climax should be. While never overwritten (and it is, after all, by a genuine master of adaptation – Brian Helgeland – famous for L.A. Confidential, Mystic River, and A Knight’s Tale, amongst other gleaming gems), Robin Hood seems to lack any wit whatsoever, and nothing conceals the myriad plot holes. Lest we mention a depressingly cloying, passé and infinitely forgettable soundtrack that fails to bring anything more to the table.

Then again, don’t over-think it. You might have a good time. There’s eye-candy for the lads (swords, blood and wenches); for the girls, a strong (and sadly, inevitably, combatant) heroine in Gwyneth Paltrow’s Marion; even a few jokes for the kids (who shouldn’t be in the screening in the first place). In short, action, comedy, romance. It’s got it all. Don’t fret about looking away from the screen to fetch some more snacks – nothing of weight is going to happen while you’re gone. Robin Hood is a real good popcorn muncher.


Robin Hood, Dir. Ridley Scott, Wri. Brian Helgeland, Universal, USA/UK, 2010

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Written by James P. Campbell

12/05/2010 at 19:27

One Response

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  1. It’s a little embarrassing, but I kind of like it when Armond White completely agrees with me…right down to the fine detail on realism versus poetry…
    Essentially verbatim. Though he beat me to it on the end credits, which I forgot to mention – they were essentially the best part of the whole film on my view.


    12/05/2010 at 23:44

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