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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Movie Review: Robin Hood

(Note: This was published in a local daily awhile back)

SOME pairings just plain work. They produce a spectrum of outcomes ranging anywhere from sufficient to astounding to legendary. Consider Rey and Carding, Pippen and Jordan, Procter and Gamble, Pacquiao and Roach, even Jack and Jill. I could go on though, but I think the point is made. After watching Robin Hood, I might be tempted to include Scott and Crowe into that category. Unfortunately, I feel the overall attempt falls short of its true potential.

To be sure though, this isn't the first work of Russell Crowe to be helmed by Ridley Scott. The very inspiring and acclaimed "Gladiator" is the most well-known. Then came the modestly-received "A Good Year" in 2006 from the best-selling novel. The pair then seemed to bounce back with some help from Denzel Washington in 2007's "American Gangster." There was also the barely noticed "Body of Lies" in 2008 with Leo "that guy from Titanic" DiCaprio. Like I said, it was barely noticed, this author included.

The life of the medieval English folk hero called Robin Hood and his "Merry Men" (they must've been quite a happy bunch) has also had its fair share of films to come out from Hollywood-land. There have been many in past decades, even a TV series. Remember the 1994 version with ummm, Kevin Costner? Ok, just make the sign of the cross and that dark, gloomy memory will pass. I kind of liked the fresh comedic twist of "Robin Hood: Men in Tights" with Carey Elwes in the lead in 1993. Being around for a very long time is a testament to the character's timeless romantic appeal: a heroic image of an outlaw who robs from the rich to give to the poor. That's got universal appeal whenever and wherever it is told.
One thing you have to get used to, though, is that when director Scott engages himself into these pseudo-historical forays, is that it's going to be a loooong engagement in trying to establish background and story arc. He did this in "Gladiator" which was well-crafted, in "Kingdom of Heaven" it was bearable. THIS time though, I felt I was being given a slow, hard massage in a spa by a masseur with a homely face while wearing construction gloves! If you just want to sit down and see bloody fights and wild skirmishes between men with "bloody thick" English accents, there will definitely be some of that, but only after a dragging narrative and the background story of the Franco-English conflict somewhat muddling the overall story. Having read some of his tales in my childhood, in my opinion, the folklore and traditional ballads attributed to Robin Hood have enough adventure and richness in them to fuel an engaging film. Trying to add other elements like a major conflict in the background in the hopes of trying to enrich the story was unnecessary in my opinion, as it complicates rather than complements. Or as a wise man once said: while "bistek" is certainly not imported angus beef, to a hungry man it can be just as good, right?

Crowe plays "Robin Longstride," a skilled archer and veteran of the Crusades in Palestine under Richard the Lion Heart. Upon the death of the king, disillusioned and war-weary, he and three other fellows escape to seek their own fortune. They then run into the central villain cum traitor of the story a bit briefly, ensuring that they are to meet again in final battle scene.

Being the lucky guys that they are, they run into circumstances which allow them to return to England disguised as nobility. We then see the beautiful English countryside in the region of Nottingham where the famous Sherwood forest is located. Necessity dictates that he lead the life of another man whose father in played by cinematic great Max Von Sydow and whose wife is "Lady Marion" (played with dignity by Cate Blanchett). The idyllic setting of this noble way of life is threatened by the most unstoppably certain thing in this world other than death: taxes. Specifically, unbearably high, rebellion-worthy taxes! Yep, it seems that this new king, while not much of a warrior unlike his fallen brother, has a bit of an oppressive streak and is vigorously wanting to fill the bankrupt government with whatever he can take from the people. The God-forsaken politicians really are the same wherever you are in the world! By the way, the medieval Catholic church (which was a kingdom/government all its own) didn't seem to be too kind to the people either. It did have a saving grace in the form of a monk who dabbled in apiculture (that's beekeeping to the less technical-minded). This was to be the famed "Friar Tuck" (refreshingly played by Mark Addy) who made a kind of liquor from honey and was not averse to fighting for the weak and meek. That's my kind of relevant ministry!

All of this complicated mix is happening while the French are secretly trying to sneak inside Britain for an invasion, taking advantage of the war between the lesser nobility fighting for their way of life and the king wanting internal revenue. My gosh! I do wonder though if all this sounds very familiar with the happenings in Juan dela Cruz's backyard?

In short, Crowe's version of Robin Hood isn't just a bandit with a golden heart following socialist ideals, he's also a rebel with an anarchic streak in defiance of oppressive authority and fighting for liberty, or so Ridley Scott would want us to believe. Really? That's again too much bistek trying to taste like angus beef. I'm really hoping though that the next time Sott and Crowe collaborate again for a film, it'll transcend the lackluster impact this film had on me. On the whole, it was too long, too much, too unappealing for me.

I'm suddenly taken a liking for archery though, which might turn out to be a bad thing I'm afraid.

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