Ridley Scott re-teams with Russell Crowe for slings and arrows of Robin Hood

by Mark Burger

The latest screen version of Robin Hood reunites Russell Crowe with director Ridley Scott, and the result is one of the summer’s most satisfying entertainments. It would be well nigh impossible to top 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood — truly one of the perfect Hollywood movies — but this rendition stands taller than most, including the flashy but flawed Kevin Costner version in 1991.

Screenwriter Brian Helgeland offers something of a revisionist take on the legend, although not so much that the familiar (and comfortable) characters are altered in any major way. Placing the character of Robin Hood into a historical perspective doesn’t demean or diminish either the fact or the fiction, and it also helps to give this version of an oft-told tale its own identity.

Having fought in the Crusades for the last 10 years, Crowe’s Robin Longstride and his comrades — Little John (Kevin Durand), Will Scarlet (Scott Grimes) and Allan A’Dayle (Alan Doyle) — come to Nottingham not as “merry men” but as weary ones, their depression exacerbated by the death of Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston) in battle.

With preening Prince John (Oscar Isaac) now calling the shots, the citizens of Nottingham are subjected to both the low esteem he holds for them and the high taxes he demands of them. With such dissent between the monarch and his subjects, it’s the perfect opportunity for the French to launch an invasion. One guess as to who will emerge as the people’s hero, dedicated to doing right by the people — in particular Marion Loxley (Cate Blanchett), who matches Robin in temperament and tenacity.

At age 45, Crowe is one of the older actors to play the role, but it doesn’t make any difference. He cuts a decisive, dynamic figure as Robin — and in Blanchett’s Marion (no maid or maiden is she), he has a love interest who is both strong-willed and forceful, as willing to go toe to toe with Robin as she is with the enemy. Their Robin and Marion were made for each other.

There’s good work in the supporting cast as well: William Hurt, Max Von Sydow, Eileen Atkins and Mark Addy, the latter inspired casting as Friar Truck — a role he was seemingly born to play.

With the Sheriff of Nottingham (Matthew Macfadyen) a peripheral character at best, the principal villain here is the treacherous Godfrey (Mark Strong), a long-time advisor of Prince John’s who is actually collaborating with the French, thereby playing both ends against the middle. Having only recently played the villain in Sherlock Holmes, Strong finds himself up this villainous tricks again here. He doesn’t do a bad or incompetent job, but it’s not surprising to see him in the role.

Another nice thing about Robin Hood is that, unlike so many movies (especially big summer releases), it doesn’t feel as if it were designed principally as a franchise. It could well be, of course, but it concentrates on telling this story — and does so quite well. The story of Robin Hood is all about adventure, spectacle, romance and chivalry, and this version delivers them all.