Robin Hood (Director’s Cut)

in Action, Drama, Not-A-Dick Flicks

Not-A-Dick Flick Pick

  • Stars: Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett
  • Director: Ridley Scott
  • Writers: Brian Helgeland (screenplay, story), Ethan Reiff & Cyrus Voris (story)

Director Ridley Scott and screenwriter Brian Helgeland’s version of Robin Hood certainly has all the elements of a dick flick:  the rugged hero, his (merry) men, one or two or even three villains on his tail, and the girl he falls in love with.  The dozen or so prominent characters tangle before a backdrop of literally thousands of (male) soldiers, marauders, orphans, and the like, with the occasional half-naked prostitute or pining mother in the mix.  And if you were unfortunate enough to witness the theatrical release, you were slapped in the face with a fairly characterless “Braveheart” replica and a full-on dick flick to boot.

The Director’s Cut, however – and massive props to both Scott and Helgeland for this – simultaneously catapults Maid Marion to an essential leading role and restores the much beloved flavor unique to the Robin Hood legend.

Be forewarned, as I was not:  this is an origin story.  If you go in anticipating the mischievous antics of Little John and Friar Tuck and Robin of the Hood, it’s going to be a tedious two hours and thirty-six minutes to a disappointing conclusion.  After an ethereal field sequence and a laborious string of history lessons (actual onscreen text for those, I suppose, who don’t yet know that Robin Hood was a very very long time ago), Scott drops us amid legions of warring soldiers near the end of Caesar Marcus Aurelius’ reign—

No, wait, wrong Ridley Scott flick.  Make that the end of King Richard the Lionheart’s Crusades, where we find lowly archer Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) with two of his not-yet-merry men, Will Scarlet and Allan A’Dayle, played entertainingly by Crowe’s real-life buds Scott Grimes and Alan Doyle.  Through a series of unnecessarily lengthy battles, skirmishes, speeches, and coincidences, they scoop up Little John (Kevin Durand, another Crowe pal) before finally attaining English shores a solid forty-one minutes into the movie.  This rivals the fifty-one minutes of “Gladiator” that stretch out before touching on anything resembling a gladiator.

Somewhere along the way, we meet the men who will eventually drive Robin & Co. to live outside the law.  Nope, it’s not the Sheriff of Nottingham, who comes off as more bumbling than dastardly and squanders Matthew Macfadyen’s considerable talents.  It’s the heir to the throne, the bitter, incompetent son of Marcus Aurelius—

Wait, sorry, wrong movie again.  Make that the bitter, incompetent brother of the Lionheart, Prince John (Oscar Isaac, bearing an eerie resemblance to Joaquin Phoenix a la “Gladiator”), and his singularly one-dimensional henchman Godfrey (Mark Strong).  And, nearly an hour into the film, Robin at last crosses paths with Cate Blanchett’s Marion, a bit of an older maid than most incarnations.

As a fan of the Robin Hood stories, my opinion is deeply divided; I greatly prefer the Kevin Costner version as a whole.  Much of this movie, and most of what is given the spotlight, is dick flick schlock at its worst.  Somehow the quintessential tale of a local hero robbing from the rich to help the poor warps into an overextended epic of crusades, massive battles, and the one man destined to save the entire freaking planet (i.e. England) from evil marauders (a.k.a. the French).  A convoluted patchwork of “Braveheart,” “Lord of the Flies” and, in case you haven’t guessed, “Gladiator,” there’s even a few “Luke, I am your father” moments thrown in for good measure.

For all that, the good elements here are very good indeed.  The heart of the movie, and most of what was cut from the theatrical release, explodes in the middle hour of the Director’s Cut.  Blanchett defies all previous characterizations of Maid Marion as spunky, feisty, or anything else that denotes “strong-ish but still a girl” (see “Robin Hood:  Prince of Thieves”).  Blanchett’s Marion is a force to be reckoned with, a woman of real-world strength who runs her manor as if hundreds of lives depend on it.  Which they do.

Scott’s attention to Marion’s relationship with her cantankerous father-in-law (Max von Sydow) lends a subtle depth to the entire film.  Crowe and Blanchett’s extraordinarily natural chemistry, and the choice to portray an older Robin and Marion, adds another welcome dimension.  Unlike most dick flicks or even flicks in general, the Director’s Cut delivers compelling arguments not only for why he chooses her, but for why she chooses him.

For anyone who pays attention to this sort of thing, it’s fun to see a pack of friends playing a pack of friends, and the Merry Men are not given nearly enough screen time.  And it is an absolute delight to watch Crowe, usually the larger-than-life, invulnerable near-god, scale back to a somewhat shady, sometimes insecure nobody who’s basically just a con man flying by the seat of his pants.  It’s an unconventional take on the legendary figure but one that, in Crowe’s deft hands, pulls the threads together beautifully in this context.

The visuals are stunning, recreating twelfth-century England with a remarkable degree of historical accuracy and boasting impeccable costuming by Oscar-winner Janty Yates of (surprise, surprise) “Gladiator” fame.  The plot would have fared better with less of the world-in-jeopardy theme – “Gladiator” did it far, far better – and more focus on Robin, Marion, and the rest of the Nottingham crew.  That being said, with the global crisis dismantled and the familiar characters established and banished to the wood, Ridley Scott cuts to black screaming for a sequel.

Now that’s the movie I’m screaming to see.

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