The eye is keen. The mind is thoroughly grounded. The goal is to maintain a sense of intellectual honesty while exploring the culture of criticism and evaluating creativity in all its glory.

Monday, May 17, 2010

For the Good of Robin Hood

Robin Hood is a balladeer’s tale that chronicles the adventures of a crackerjack archer and highly skilled swordsman. English folklore perpetually portrayed this outlaw as a hero who robbed from the rich to give to the poor, with the oldest references beginning in medieval time and continuing through modern literature, films, music, and television.  The earliest  ballads link him to identifiable places and many accept he was, more or less, a real person.  There are also those who consider the tale as nothing more than muse inspired folklore or legend.  For sure, the name Robin Hood has customarily been used to describe an itinerant felon who was really just a figuration shaping the battle for liberty and freedom from high taxation and tyranny.  It is a story that seems fit for the ages.

This is the sort of tale I adore.  I delight in the hero; the battle between right and wrong; costumes and time periods; face to face conflicts and brotherhood of man.  Still, I’ve never enjoyed modern productions of it.  I find them too clean, too cute, and (especially in the case of Kevin Costner) too unbelievable.  When I heard Russell Crowe was involved with a new telling I, for the first time, found myself anticipating that there may be a Robin Hood worth watching.

I have heard folks complain that Crowe is too old (at 45, he's the oldest to ever play this character) and not what one expects for our hero.  Really?  I don’t think of medieval vagabond-types as Errol Flynnish prancers with Andy Divine voice-over.  He should be strong, rough, and grungy.  I have seen a sufficient amount of films staring Russell Crowe and know he can do strong-rough-grungy well enough to fool my nose into thinking he stinks.  More than that, his acting is based soundly on emotion and he has mastered the art of telling the story with very few words.  It’s all in his eyes.  Secondary is the unparalleled masculinity and charisma that he commands as he effortlessly performs his role. A believable Robin Hood must have substantial experience to do what Robin must do.  The same holds true for the actor who plays that part.  When I contemplate this from the angle of what could have really been, Crowe is the most believable Robin Hood I’ve ever seen.

The same holds true for his merry men.  Minimal time was spent developing their part of the story, yet it was easily believed that these ex-soldiers would follow Robin to the ends of the earth and back.  That was due not only to Crowe’s masculine bearing, but also to the set-up of Robin as their commander in the Kings’ army at the beginning of the film. They naturally supported and respected him, and merrily drank and frolicked when time allowed. The main grouping also stared with Crowe in Mystery Alaska, and some where cast members in A Knight’s Tale.  They are all solidly good at their craft and created a believable group of characters built from very little context.  It was a pleasure to see them again.

More than anything, I appreciated Cate Blanchett as Maid Marion.  So many times movie makers cast a young starlet next to an older man and I find myself annoyed at the sexism of it all. Here, both characters feel a bit used and worn, experienced and leery.  Blanchett and Crowe may not have had the boiling chemistry of young love, but their characters demanded practicality above fantasy, as it should have been.  Before love comes trust, and this movie quietly built upon that notion.  The underlying idea of self-preservation was actually rather strong in the script, and was played well by the actors.  On some level it reminded me of Gone with the Wind – that sort of, “As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again!” kind of thing.  I like the optimism of stubborn defiance.

In this interpretation of Robin Hood, King Richard has been away from England fighting costly crusades for 10 years, leaving the homeland vulnerable to French invasion.  Richard and his army are on the final push for their journey home, bombarding a French castle that looks strangely like it came from the set of Timeline, when a cook popped off a lucky shot and brought the King down.  The story-line develops from there – which takes Robin from loyal royal archer to – Robert, assumed Lord Luxley of Nottingham who helps save England from French invasion – then eventually to Robin, a notorious outlaw protecting and defending the poor against oppressive tyranny.  It’s a predictable story, and I’d be pissed if they changed it.  I very quickly surrendered my normal critical self as the film moved along and forgave some obvious flaws in accuracy.  I simply enjoyed the film’s visual journey and the actor's performances, even though I am not a fan of Ridley Scott’s shaky camera work and wished that weren’t there during the battle scenes.  Even the trite and obvious reference to modern Omaha Beach landing on D-Day as an equivalent to the French invasion was okay.  It felt like a struggle to be epic and I suspect folks who wanted the film to succeed on it’s battle sequences might be a bit disappointed. The success of the film was carried on a smaller scale of things:  The acting, the costumes, and the city/village/forest sets. In a nutshell, the human factor is high in Robin Hood and I will buy a dvd release and watch it again.

“It's almost over it's almost done
And you can't put the blame on anyone
It's almost easy and it's almost fun
Did  you get caught with your britches on

Hi derry day in the month of May
Was the song the minstrel sang
To the good of Robin Hood
Maid Marion and all the gang

His aim was mean and his shot was clean
And his suit was the sheen of evergreen
The folks he knew hadn't naught to fear
When the sheriff was there they were over here

Hi derry doon in the month of June
Was the song the minstrel sung
To the good of Robin Hood's
Good name and a place to run

He loved strong ale and a run down jail
Was the kind of a scene where he never failed
There was no man on the sea or land
Who could get Maid Marion on the trail"

––– Gordon Lightfoot, Songs the Minstrel Sang


Wade said...

Though I have not yet seen it I have no doubts that I will love it, even more so after reading this. I must say I am a huge Costner fan and very much enjoyed his version, I am sure I will enjoy Crowe just as much.
I love films that portray that time period and I always accept the flaws of a movie even though I tend to point them out. That comes out of me more though in films involving modern military and ones based on comic books.

In closing thank you for posting this blog and I look forward to seeing the movie.


Blonde-At-Heart said...

I must agree with your take on this movie. It was refreshingly gritty and more believable because of it. I found myself very emotionally invested, not just in the Robin Hood and Marion romance, but in the overall story and all the people portrayed. It is by far my favorite telling of one of my favorite stories. Now, if they could just do a great movie of King Arthur........... :)

Irelock said...

I'm with you in rooting for a good King Arthur tale! Shoot, how about just a great movie?! That would be refreshing, too ;-)