Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood is ‘the untold story of the man behind the legend’, and if it had remained untold I do not think it would have been a tragedy. At nearly two and a half hours it is horribly long. (If they ever ask me to give a talk at a film school, the first thing I would say to the students is: kids, if you can’t tell a story in 90 minutes, go open a kebab shop.) The dialogue is often mumbled and unfathomable, which may be in its favour, but how would I know? It is serious to a fault. Russell Crowe, as Robin, lacks warmth and charisma and wit but at least makes up for it with…nope, nothing. And the pounding, overamplified soundtrack is so unrelenting that I wanted to say what my mother always said and I swore I wouldn’t: ‘What do I have to do to get some peace around here?’
This is a prequel, about the Robin that has yet to become the heroic Robin Hood: the one who steals from the rich, gives to the poor and always has a cheese fondue on a Sunday, as some of the legends have it. So this is a sort of Batman Begins, only not nearly as good, and I’ve kind of had it with prequels anyway. Apparently, when this film was first given the green light it was called Nottingham, and it depicted the Sheriff of Nottingham as the hero and Hood as the villain but Scott was dissatisfied with it and so must have said something along the lines of: ‘I know, let’s make Hood the goodie and the Sheriff the baddie and not freshen it up at all. How does that sound?’ Rather like Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, you do have to wonder: what is the point of this?
Set in the 13th century, Robin Longstride is an archer in the crusading army of Richard the Lionheart but, fed up with his lot as a soldier, he flees shortly after Richard is killed in one of those generic battles involving mud, swords, rearing horses and tons of hot oil. He flees with his men: Little John (Kevin Durand), Will Scarlet (Scott Grimes) and Allan A’Dayle (Alan Doyle), who are not especially merry, and so undifferentiated as characters that they don’t much count. I could go into the ins and outs of the plot here, but as I didn’t catch most of the exposition — but I could still tell it was exposition by the actors’ serious, exposition-telling faces and the endless mumbling — all I will tell you is that Robin must, via various skirmishes involving more arrows and a very bad baddie played by Mark Strong (there’s a thing!), make his way to Nottingham where he is taken in by Sir Walter Loxley (Max von Sydow, trying hard not to sound Swedish) and his widowed daughter-in-law, Marion (Cate Blanchett). Blanchett is a striking actress, quite one of my favourites, but there is no sexual chemistry at all between her and the grunting Crowe. In one scene, she has to undress him, release him from his chain mail, and it is meant to be sexy, and it should be sexy, and Crowe’s six pack has been oiled, and it has all the makings of sexiness and sexy time, but? It’s as nothing, and nothing within me stirred. I think I just looked at my watch. And sighed. Wretchedly.
Scott decided, I think, to get away from the whole campy thing in tights business and wanted to make this ‘real’. So there is sweat and dirt and rats at the cheese and even bad teeth, which is fair enough, but it is also joyless. It just grinds on and on and on, pointlessly, although it does have its visually imposing moments. The forests always look spectacular. And the finale — when the French and English armies meet on a beach under a vast shower of arrows — is pretty neat. Also, I should mention that Eileen Atkins (who plays Eleanor of Aquitaine) not only lights up the screen for the brief moments she appears, but also speaks up and clearly. God bless RADA and all who sail in her! But, mostly, this is a long and dull movie of the kind that doesn’t pay emotional dividends and if you don’t believe me you should. Why? Because I said so, dummy. Also, if you don’t eat your crusts your hair won’t curl. It’s a proven fact.