Name: Robin Hood
Release Date: 2010
Director: Ridley Scott
Writers: Brian Helgeland (screenplay); Brian Helgeland, Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris (story)
Russell Crowe: Robin Longstride
Cate Blanchett: Marion Loxley
Max von Sydow: Sir Walter Loxley
William Hurt: William Marshal
Mark Strong: Godfrey
Oscar Isaac: Prince John
Danny Huston: King Richard The Lionheart
Eileen Atkins: Eleanor of Aquitaine
Mark Addy: Friar Tuck
Matthew Macfadyen: Sheriff of Nottingham
Kevin Durand: Little John
Scott Grimes: Will Scarlet
Alan Doyle: Allan A’Dayle
Douglas Hodge: Sir Robert Loxley
Léa Seydoux: Isabella of Angoulême
Run-Time: 140 mins.
Studio: Universal/Imagine Entertainment
America was in the grips of The Great Depression when Errol Flynn, a glint in his eye, a mischievous smile playing across his full mouth, galloped across the screen in “The Adventures of Robin Hood” in 1938.
In his joyous fights with Basil Rathbone’s cartoonishly evil Sir Guy of Gisbourne, Flynn’s Robin of Locksley gave moviegoers an escape from the hardship of the times and offered them a none-too-subtle reminder that the very rich who’d plunged the nation into financial ruin might someday get theirs.
Filmmakers of all stripes have tried to capture the mythic bandit of Sherwood Forest in the seven decades since Flynn and Olivia De Havilland’s Maid Marian first exchanged furtive glances.
Sean Connery took a whack at the role, bringing a rugged charm to a midlife Robin in “Robin and Marian” in 1976.
The less said about Kevin Costner’s now-you-hear-it-now-you-don’t English lilt in 1991’s “Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves” the better — though that movie did boast the scenery-devouring Alan Rickman as the deliciously villainous Sheriff of Nottingham and a cameo from a still-virile Connery as King Richard.
Through dozens of film versions — including a BBC-America version that felt at times like “Dawson’s Creek, The Sherwood Forest Edition” — it was Flynn’s Robin who remained the touchstone.
It tells you all you need to know that Mel Brooks chose to send up the classic original in 1993’s “Robin Hood: Men in Tights,” and not one of the faceless versions that came before.
Like all of our enduring legends — King Arthur, Robin Hood, James Bond and even Batman — every generation reinterprets its myths to make sense of its own time and to provide some meaning to current travails.
So what to make of the 2010 film version that reunited Australian actor Russell Crowe with director Ridley Scott for the first time since they tackled another enduringly mythic period: Ancient Rome in 2000’s “Gladiator?”
Stuck with a character so freighted with baggage, Scott and Crowe do the only thing they can do: they rip Robin (here a common archer in the army of Richard the Lionheart) down the floorboards, and set him at the very beginning of his career.
That means there’s no rivalry with the Sheriff of Nottingham (Macfayden), who’s so incidental to the plot that he might as well not even be in the movie. Nor is there even anyone called Guy of Gisbourne.
And the evil King John (Isaac) is less a tyrannical ruler than a petulant adolescent who’s spent his life in the shadow of his towering elder brother Richard. And when circumstances catapult him to the throne, he behaves like anyone hopelessly out of their depth and becomes ridiculously arrogant. Though in reality, one suspects he’s terrified by the burden he’s assumed.
The usual baddies dispensed with, we’re left with someone named Godfrey (Strong), a confidante of King John, who, for reasons that really never become clear, has decided to turn his back on England and ally himself with the king of France to capture the throne for himself. Or maybe it’s to give the throne to France. Or maybe it’s to …. Ohhhh … who the hell knows or cares what motivates him?
What the viewer mostly knows is that Godfrey is bald and scowly and that there will almost certainly be a dramatic confrontation with Robin in the film’s final act.
And what of Robin? Well, he’s made it back to England after warring in France and is hanging out in Nottingham, where he’s vowed to return the sword of the now-dead Robert Loxley to his father. Did we mention King Richard is dead as well?
Robin is accompanied on his journey by the embryonic Merry Men — Little John (Durand), Will Scarlet (Grimes) and Alan A’Dayle (Doyle) — all three lusty and funny tough guys who are more vividly realized in their brief moments of screentime than some of the marquee players.
In short order, Crowe’s Robin agrees to a request from the aged Sir Walter Loxley (Von Sydow) impersonate the dead Robert so that King John won’t make a grab for the family’s land. This is because Robert left no male heirs, only his widow, Marian (Blanchett).
It’s all faintly ridiculous and contrived. But it does set up the classic, mismatched Hepburn/Tracy relationship that you just know will end with Robin and Marian living happily ever after. That is, as soon as they vanquish the invading French. And after Robin inevitably kills the evil Godfrey with a well-placed arrow-shot.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t offer a word or two about the luminous Blanchett, whose piercing blue eyes convey a quiet strength that fairly knocks the viewer back in their seats.
Having spent much of her married life waiting for her husband to return from The Crusades, one gets the sense that Marian would do fine without a mate, though the circumstances of the time force her to find one.
And really, the women are the revelation of this film. It’s the aged Eleanor of Acquitaine (Atkins) — Richard’s widow and John’s mother — who tries to get the young ruler to pull his head out of his backside and assume his royal role.
And in a brief scene, John’s wife, the French princess Isabella of Angoulême (Seydoux), risks her own life to reveal Godfrey’s treachery to her husband. There’s a moment of unbelievable courage as Isabella holds a dagger to her quite lovely sternum, offering her husband a seemingly easy way to deal with what he’s just learned.
All three women are pillars of strength compared to the men of the movie: the feckless Richard (Huston) — who nearly bankrupts his realm to capture the Holy Land; the insecurity-ridden King John and Crowe’s Robin, who assumes the mantle of hero like he’s lost a bet.
So now we’re back to the question posed earlier in this piece: What does this reinterpreted Robin Hood tell us about ourselves, about the culture of America in 2011?
Seventy-three years after Flynn wriggled into his first pair of Lincoln green tights, the nation finds itself in eerily similar circumstances.
As in 1938, the economy is a mess; there’s a wave of nativism and xenophobia (much of it weirdly aimed at the current occupant of the White House), a creeping dread that America might not wield as much clout as once it did and an odd suspicion that the American dream is fraying at the edges — if not unraveling entirely.
Filmed in washed-out shades of gray, blue and green, Ridley Scott’s re-imagining of the enduring medieval myth of Robin Hood reflects that ambivalence and uncertainty.
Of course, Crowe’s Robin Hood becomes a hero. But it’s never quite clear why this is the case.
Does he rise to the occasion for the love of Blanchett’s Marian or because he wants to save England from the French? Or does he want to motivate King John to become a great ruler — as he tries to do in a motivational speech that felt like it was clicked and dragged from the script of “Braveheart.”
So there’s that uncertainty: of doing something because you feel like you’re obligated to do it, or as if it’s expected of you — just like America still feels compelled to pursue what are now three foreign wars even as healing is desperately needed at home.
And where Flynn’s “Robin Hood” ended with a technicolor explosion of optimism, its modern cousin concludes on a more muted note: with Robin and Marian embracing in Sherwood Forest, even though we know that much hardship and struggle and as-yet-undetermined future still awaits them.
There’s no happy ending guaranteed for this couple. And maybe we’ve reached a point where, unlike 1938, audiences don’t believe in the potential for one anymore.