For all the movies and television series that have been made about Robin Hood, and as much as I love anything involving bows and arrows and swords and heroics, I’ve really not seen that many of them. But I absolutely love Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, which was directed by Kevin Reynolds, who made another of my favorites, The Count of Monte Cristo.

What wasn’t to love? You had Alan Rickman and Michael Wincott in the rogues gallery and, as my friend Rhiannon eloquently (and correctly) stated, “Any movie that has Morgan Freeman flinging a scimitar at a witch is a winner.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

While Costner’s take was more of a fun adventure, the new version by director Ridley Scott — starring Russell Crowe as the legendary hero — goes for more of an historical angle. And though there are points in its hefty running time where it can’t quite decide whether to be a sweeping historical epic or a smaller, nobler harbinger of the events that defined a nation and created an outlaw, I really can’t name a single scene or performance that didn’t work for me, and I can’t wait to revisit it on Blu.

King Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston) has fallen in battle, and Sir Robert Loxley (Douglas Hodge) is charged with returning the crown to England with the news. But Loxley and his men are brutally murdered in an ambush set by Sir Godfrey (Mark Strong), whose French lineage means his allegiances aren’t entirely to his own countrymen.

Interrupting the slaughter — and also interrupting the fleeing Godfrey’s face with an arrow that needed to go just a little to the right — is Robin Longstride (Crowe), an archer who, along with comrades Alan A’Dale (Alan Doyle), Will Scarlet (Scott Grimes), and Little John (Kevin Durand), had to sit out the battle at the mercy of the King’s probation.

Robin promises the dying Loxley that he’ll finish his mission for him. But Loxley gives him yet another task — returning the sword of his father, Sir Walter Loxley (Max Von Sydow), to his family home, where the woman who’s now his widow, the Lady Marian (Cate Blanchett), still waits for her husband’s return.

Robin and his merry men decide the easiest way to do this and then quickly disappear from history would be to don the armor of the fallen men, and so they do, with Robin impersonating Loxley. The news is delivered. Next, the sword. But nothing else that happens is remotely that easy.

The elder Sir Loxley — with an infectious glimmer in Von Sydow’s eye despite the character’s blindness — is far from offended by Robin’s impersonation of his son. In fact, he’s thrilled by it, and wishes Robin to continue the charade. Lady Marian obliges her father-in-law despite being initially disgusted by the idea, but of course she warms to Robin as the story goes on.

And I love the chemistry between Crowe and Blanchett. Robin has never known how to be anything but a warrior, and Marian never got the chance to learn how to be a wife. So even though neither of them is a spring chicken, romance is still something relatively new to them — and more than a little terrifying. It’s one of my favorite aspects of the film, and I almost wish it had been given a little more time.

But we’ve also got to make room for the new King John (Oscar Isaac), crowned in the wake of his brother’s death despite the legitimate misgivings of his mother, the formidable Eleanor of Aquitaine (Eileen Atkins). And his choice of queen, Isabella of Angoulême (Léa Seydoux, whose succulent lines reminded me of a dirty French Scarlett Johansson), doesn’t do Eleanor’s peace of mind any favors, either. (Also look out for a French lieutenant played by Denis Menochet, who played Seydoux’s father, Perrier La Padite, in one of last year’s most amazing performances in Inglorious Basterds.)

When the new king sends his lapdog Godfrey to collect taxes from the beleaguered citizens as the French plot a siege against England’s southern coast, the barons look for a leader and a hero.

Guess who?

Throw in some Magna Carta intrigue and a wild, appropriately outrageous beachfront battle at the end, and you’ve got a big, exceedingly well-made film that looks fantastic and entertains with plenty of style.

Russell Crowe is really fantastic here, inspiring during big speeches and suitably reserved when quiet moments demand it. Between this and the excellent Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, the Australian actor is doing England proud.

The movie also did nothing to abate the deep and mighty love I hold in my heart for Cate Blanchett, whose otherworldly beauty shines through Marian, no matter how plain they try to make her look.

William Hurt is also amazing as William Marshal, the 1st Earl of Pembroke, who served four kings and earned a reputation as the greatest knight who ever lived. Hurt’s performance will make you believe it, and he shares one of the film’s best and tensest scenes in a hallway with Strong.

If you’re looking for a Robin Hood movie where Robin and his Merry Men run around the woods and interfere with the best laid plains of the Sheriff of Nottingham, you won’t find it here. And I like that, because we’ve all seen that story. Robin Hood aims the arrows of its narrative at a more historical context while capably holding true to the heart of the legend we all recognize and love.


  1. Kerstin says:

    I loved, loved, LOVED this movie. I have to say, even though the part was understated, Matthew Macfadyen was BRILLIANT as the Sheriff of Nottingham. One of my favorite performances in the film really.

  2. Jo says:

    I must say I enjoyed reading your words about the new Robin Hood. There have been so many negative reviews from folks who wanted green tights and very merry men and who seem to miss altogether the point of what Ridley Scott was trying to do here. In a way, Robin Hood seems almost a sequel to Kingdom of Heaven as that film ends with King Richard on his way to the Holy Land and this begins with his end, though it did take him a great deal longer to die than they gave him in RH. Plot demands, however, are plot demands and Robin & Co. simply could not linger in the stocks that many days but needed to be up and on their way.
    Jo in Pittsburgh

  3. John says:

    Kerstin! He was good, and in a rather thankless role given that the film wasn’t really about that segment of the legend. That’s one thing you can count on with Ridley Scott — excellent casting right down to the smallest roles.

    Jo! Hello! I agree with you — it’s been very frustrating reading all of the terrible reviews for the movie. And excellent observation about it being a sequel of sorts fo Kingdom of Heaven. Sometimes I wonder if critics who review movies even like movies in the first place, or are simply more interested in showing off how clever they think they are instead of just talking about the movie. Alas. Anyway, I liked it a lot, and when I saw it, I heard a couple behind me talking before it started about how they hoped it would be good, and this guy beside them said, “This will be my third time. It’s fucking awesome!” So there’s somebody else who liked it. A lot, ha.

  4. Jo says:

    I will admit to 8 1/2 times. Yeah…I know…but I’m not sure if they’ll actually get to do the sequel or not, so I’m writing one myself and
    calling it “Greenwood” (on Libriscrowe). Soooo…that’s my excuse for seeing it so much…immersion for literary purposes. Truly, tho, alack and great alas, I only enjoyed it four of those times because they kept moving it around to different auditoriums in my cineplex and the digital bulbs are too expensive to replace, so I was told, and they let them fade bleakly into some dark night. I saw it in five different auditoriums and in only one was the color level right. In the others the smooth green hills with the white horse were dark charcoal and my eyeballs were offended by the lack of the green I knew to be there. I spent some amount of time explaining this carefully yet nicely to both the manager and the assistant manager, but they remained unmoved due to finances. Sigh.
    Jo In Pittsburgh

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