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.