Sunday, May 16, 2010

Robin Hood: Making It Real

I see Ridley Scott's "Robin Hood" as continuing the project he started with "Kingdom of Heaven" in 2005; the attempt to de-mystify the legends of the medieval age, putting the naked brutality, injustice, and cruelty of period in clear view. I would compare the project to modern Westerns like "Unforgiven" or "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" which convince us of their honesty through realism but have strong moral purpose.

Film allows total fancy and whimsy (for example the classic Errol Flynn version of "Robin Hood"), but it can also make things concrete. Scott makes every effort to put us into that bygone world and see what it was like. It was ugly and savage, but it was also a world in which people had aspirations for justice and liberty which have continuing meaning for us.

Scott places Robin Hood into a historical context which, if not factually accurate, at least gives a picture of the political realities of the times. For example, the Magna Carta--the movie shows accurately what brought it about; the same King John of the movie is the one who signed it, then repudiated it. On the other hand, he didn't burn it as in the movie (it's still around), and, of course, its provenance from Robin's father was invented for the movie. Another example: the heroic Richard the Lion Hearted really did order the execution of some thousands of hostages--men, women, and children--in Acre in the Holy Land during his Crusade; here Robin dares anger the King by rubbing his nose in it a bit.

So, it's serious, but also (much more than "Kingdom of Heaven") entertainment, with some good dialogue and more than a fair share of action.

Some of the casting was very good, I think, especially Max von Sydow as
Lady Marian's old, blind father, Danny Huston as King Richard the
Lion-Hearted, and Kevin Durand as a very different kind of Little John, the warrior. Also, writer Brian Helgeland invented some good anecdotes
of Robin's early associations with those who became his Merry Men, and came up with some straight-outta-modern dialogue between Robin and his lady as they initially battle, court (but not in the old-fashioned style), and love.

As for the leads, Cate Blanchett's portrayal reminds me of many other feisty, down-to-earth Englishwomen, and I think it will be very popular. Russell Crowe's Robin is not going to be such a crowd-pleaser, but I think he produced the performance that Scott wanted.

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