The idea behind The Public Movie Defender is to take up the cause of a particular movie that I believe is better than the majority of reviews it has received. These are movies which I feel are worth either a second look or at least a more open examination considering the predominantly negative opinions of them. The films chosen are ones that I like so therefore I’m taking their case and defending them before the court of negative opinion. Let the trial begin…
DEFENDANT # 1 – “ROBIN HOOD”
Occasionally I like to take the time to focus on a particular movie that I really like but many others didn’t. Call it my unnecessary yet obligatory sense of personal duty or some warped affection for getting blasted by my fellow movie fans. Whatever it is, I find it fun defending movies that I appreciate but many others may not. One such film is Ridley Scott’s 2010 period adventure “Robin Hood”. Lingering at an undeserved 43% on Rotten Tomatoes, “Robin Hood” has faced a variety of gripes from its slow, plot-heavy narrative to its historical inaccuracies. These things didn’t bother me at all and the movie went on to be one of my favorite films of that year.
I still remember when I was driving to the theater to first see Ridley Scott’s “Robin Hood”. I couldn’t help but wonder if I had set my expectations so high that it would be impossible for the movie to reach them. After all, this is Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe, the same team who brought us “Gladiator”, a true favorite of mine. Could one of my favorite working actors and one of my favorite working directors come close to matching the success of their previous Oscar winning period film? The answer is yes, for my money they did come close. While overall “Robin Hood” isn’t as grand or as seamless as “Gladiator”, it does well in many of the same areas that made “Gladiator” such a strong film.
This isn’t your standard Robin Hood that we’re all familiar with. This is considered a prequel to the ‘steal from the rich, give to the poor’ story that’s been told numerous times before. It follows Robin Longstride (Crowe) as he goes from being an archer in King Richard’s army to the most wanted man in all of England. Along the way he witnesses the death of King Richard in battle and the rise of King John (Oscar Isaacs), Richard’s younger brother. King John isn’t a likable leader. His arrogant, self-serving approach to governing and his burdensome heavy taxes have turned the people against him and it couldn’t be a worse time for that. An invading French army is knocking on England’s door but the people need unifying.
Meanwhile Robin and his three new but merry men find themselves in Nottingham where secrets to his past may lie. Its here than he runs into the proud and spirited Marion (Cate Blanchett). I won’t give anything away but anyone even remotely familiar with the Robin Hood story knows that they eventually hit it off. But violence and war comes to Nottingham which catapults Robin right into the center of the tumult. The story takes its time getting to this point. It deliberately moves through several plot points and it lays out a lot of story along the way.
This is what turned off a lot people. They found it all flat and plodding. Personally I loved the slow and calculated buildup. I loved the clear focus on the characters, the politics, and the strategies behind the events taking place. I loved that it wasn’t just another period film focused almost exclusively on the action. For me the intentional time spent with character development worked fine and it fed the action sequences giving them more meaning and weight. With the exception of a couple of needless inclusions, I was wrapped up in this story and while it might have been too slow for some, I found its proficient script in the hands of this truly great cast made for some wonderful entertainment.
Now when it comes to making an epic-scale period piece few can do it better than Ridley Scott. Here his amazing attention to detail, extravagant set pieces, and gorgeous cinematography create a believable and stunning 13th century England. From the film’s opening sequences to it’s furious finish, the realistic feel and old English atmosphere is one of the reasons the film worked so well for me. As alluded to above, Scott also brings just the right amount of action scenes. The frantic, gritty camera work and carefully executed CGI allows for the small battles and huge epic scale war sequences to maintain an undeniable energy. But again the film doesn’t totally rely on them. There’s a very deliberate tale that unfolds in an effort to set up the legend of Robin Hood. Scott takes his time and adds a fresh depth to these very familiar characters.
Then there’s the strong lead performance of Russell Crowe. He has always been able to take a character and combine stength with a genuine humanity. Crowe’s Robin Hood is possibly the most human of any previous portrayals showing a sad but strong man in the dark about his past and uncertain about his future. It isn’t loud or showy work but it fits nicely with the tone that Scott is looking for. I also have to mention the performance of another favorite actor of mine. Mark Strong takes on another “bad guy” role and he’s able to create yet another delightfully despicable villain. He’s such great fun to watch. Cate Blanchett puts together a very different and intriguing Marion. She’s strong and independent and Blanchett certainly holds her own amid the slew of male performances. There’s tons of great supporting work from Max von Sydow, Oscar Isaac, William Hurt and more.
“Robin Hood” is an entirely different look at the classic character that does lend to a more serious telling of his legend. That, mixed with the slower plot-thickened narrative, clearly didn’t work for those with much different expectations for the film. It not only worked for me but it impressed me and I found it easy to be absorbed into the story. I’ll admit there are some moments that could have been cut and there are bits of silliness in the big finale. But they never came close to ruining my experience and after several viewings I still believe this is one of the best films of the Scott/Crowe collaborations. That’s my defense and I’m sticking to it.
I don’t know, I really wanted to like the movie, but it just wasn’t that great. It wasn’t terrible, but it could have been a lot better. Mind you, I had just read the The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, which is very different than this movie.
I can respect that. Honestly I thought it was fantastic. I’ve definitely given it enough looks. I’ve probably seen it 5 times or so and it keeps me enthralled every time.
Great new feature Keith! You definitely made me want to revisit a film I initially dismissed as garble (although I love Oscar Isaac). It certainly wasn’t akin to Gladiator, but had it’s moments… very few moments. Can’t wait to see what else you defend!
Thanks man! Isaac is hilarious. He has this sweet line where he rides up and a show horse is strutting. He says “What’s wrong with the thing. Does it have the palsy?”. His delivery of that line cracks me up every time.
Obviously by my post I think it has several great moments. It’s just unique that just as many if not more of these moments are in the dialogue as the action.
Great article, Keith. I haven’t seen this one, although I have been wanting to simply because I enjoy the Robin Hood mythos (though I’d say the odds of any film displacing Errol Flynn’s version as my favorite are slim to none). You do a great job of defending this film; I remember it getting something of a lambasting, but not hearing about any specific reasonable complaints. Historical inaccuracy is a hard criticism to level at a Robin Hood movie, especially when it’s from the team of Gladiator, which was acclaimed despite its own inaccuracies (Commodus would have a terrific libel lawsuit were he alive. 🙂 )
What really intrigues me is the change in timing here, setting it after Richard’s death instead of before, like most versions. That has a lot of potential.
Thanks! Oh I thought the historical accuracies arguments are the weakest. It’s clearly not trying to be historically accurate. It’s telling its on story and I really responded to it.
The backlash on this one has been interesting. There are a lot of humdrum reactions to it but very little specificity. I think it’s a wonder film.
Nice new feature Keith! I wish I could back you up on this but I just can’t. However, I don’t think it’s the complete failure that some people to believe it to be; i’m just kind of indifferent to it. I think a lot of people’s problem with it was that it just wasn’t Gladiator, which is understandable if a little unfair.
Thanks man! Yep, The Gladiator comparison is unfair. It’s a completely different film with a completely different style of storytelling. I think your indifference mirrors the thoughts of many others. There aren’t a lot of specific gripes about this film other than the two common ones I mentioned. I dunno, I thought it was quite good!
Definitely agree with you. While on first viewing I was maybe a little disappointed with the film, repeat viewings made me appreciate the film a whole lot more. There was just a lot riding on this film, the expectation that it would be the “same” as Gladiator. Very, very few films will be able to do that. Robin Hood is a fine historical film. Even with Crowe’s dodgy accent 😉
Thanks! Glad to see I’m not alone. Love the comment about Crowe’s accent. I remember him getting pretty annoyed in an interview once when he was asked about it.
Don’t blame him! Though, it was all over the shop. In the grand scheme of things, it was an easy thing to gloss over and just enjoy the rest of the film.
The film’s also got a great score. Give it a listen, definitely worth it.
Hmm, I don’t like Robin Hood as much as you do, but I thought it was better than what most critics said about it. Nice write-up.
Thanks man. I do think critics were a little unfair with this one.
It was huge in scope and highly detailed, but somehow it felt lifeless to me. I wouldnt call it a bad film, but I’m not lining up to watch it again… 😦
Great idea for a series, btw. I imagine that you can get a ton of mileage out of it. 😀
It should be a fun way of showcasing my bad taste in film! lol
Nice pick Keith!! So this is the first of the series then? “….defending them before the court of negative opinion” Ahah, boy there are sooo many films I could do the same treatment if I have the energy, but I like this idea, I look forward to which movie you’re gonna defend next.
In any case, I quite like Robin Hood, though no, I don’t think it’s nearly as iconic as Gladiator. It’s one of those films which certain parts I really enjoy, one of them is Blanchett’s casting, but it’s not something I’d want to see repeatedly. You’re right though, Ridley does know how to create a gritty look for his films, and the painstaking attention to detail is always great to watch.
Yep, I plan on it being a regular thing! Already have “Defendant #2” lined up! LOL.
Really glad to hear you appreciate Robin Hood as well. It really works for me and just solidifies Russell Crowe as one of my very favorite working actors. Such a fine cast and yep, Blanchett is right there at the top. She holds her own plus some!
For me, anything w/ Blanchett is always watchable 😀 Nice to see two of THE best Aussie actors working together!
I’ve always been a fan of Robin Hood stories ever since I read Scott’s novel. I’m not that picky. This take was as good as any other as far as I remember. I wasn’t aware that it’s criticized, but if it is, I’m glad someone’s standing up for it.
Thanks Jessica! I love that I’m not alone on this one. There was a very “blah” reaction to this one. Critics hammered it to the tune of a 43% standing on Rotten Tomatoes. I can’t help but wonder if expectations were just too high. If too many people expected Gladiator part 2. I love Gladiator but I see this is a very different film and a very good film. Therefore I gotta defend it! 🙂
Great series Keith! Good thing you’re the Defendant because wow, 4.5 stars is high for this! 🙂
Yep. I’m all behind the 4.5 though bro. I really do think its a strong film. I guess that’s why it’s my client right? 😉
May watch this again, it’s been a while.
I have always dismissed this because of other people’s reviews and consequently I’ve never got around to seeing it. Who knows, the last film you recommended to me went well, and you argue your case here well, perhaps I’ll give this a try 🙂
Awesome! Just remember it isn’t Gladiator but on the other hand it isn’t trying to be. It’s pretty deliberate on its storytelling but I loved it because I was so involved in it! I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.
A fine new feature Keith. I haven’t seen Robin hood, though, so I can’t comment fully but you put up a great defense, regardless. I look forward to more of these.
Thanks man. Give it a look. It’s pretty plot heavy which was a problem for some. Obviously I loved it. Would like to get your take on it.
I do own it but never actually put it on. I’ll try an make time for it.
It took me a little while to get past the fact this wasn’t Prince of Thieves. Once that happened I really got into this and can’t understand why it hasn’t received better reviews. I ended up really enjoying it and gave it a four star review.
It definitely isn’t Prince of Thieves! 🙂
I’m with ya. I’m not certain why but there was a certain backlash against the film from the start. I look at so many lesser movies that get such rave reviews and it really puzzles me.
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I haven’t seen that adaption of Robin Hood…yet. Am considering whether or not to bother borrowing it from the library – especially since I discovered Cate Blanchett is playing Marian. (hope I spelled her surname correctly).
That movie really took a lot of unfair criticism in my opinion. I like it gritty and more dramatic take on the story. Some people pushed back on that though. And the performances are so good. It turned out to be one of my very favorite movies from that year.
Good flick! Who played the mother of King John? All the actors were good, we enjoyed it.
Eileen Atkins played his mother. And I’m with you. I still love this more serious take on the Robin Hood legend. Crowe is such a natural fit.