Skip to main content

Gives man a halo, does mead.

Robin Hood
(2010)

(SPOILERS) It’s all about story for Sir Ridders, which is why he signed on to a direct an original take on Robin Hood that he promptly disabused and changed into something much more run-of-the-mill. The same Ridders who cocked a snook at the entire history of big screen Sherwood Forest forays by suggesting Men in Tights was the best version of Robin Hood yet managed to make a picture inferior to most of the ones he probably sidelong glanced at en route. Robin Hood is most definitely not one of Scott's best movies, and yet, the first half has just enough pissed-away potential to leave one with a whiff of what might have been.


Scott had been angling for a Robin Hood picture before seizing on Nottinghamby Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris (BrimstoneSleeper Cell). Their take flipped the protagonist and antagonist, with Robin as the villain and the Sheriff of Nottingham as the hero. They also had – I know, not exactly vouching for its quality – a serial killer plotline (Robin would be unjustly accused) and the Sheriff as "a CSI-type" investigator (an exaggeration according to the writers, but he was "a man of science"). A bidding war ensued, Universal won, and Ridley Scott agreed to the screenplay because of his American Gangster relationship with producer Brian Grazer (whose Imagine has offices on the Universal lot). And then threw it away. Brian Helgeland wrote his own version, in turn subject to rewrites by Paul Webb, again by Helgeland and then Tom Stoppard took a stab at it while filming was underway.


Scott dictated the initial main thrust of the Helgeland take (with the emphasis on initial): the idea of the Sheriff and Robin being the same guy, "kind of like Fight Club. He'd be chasing himself for the whole damned movie!" Now, in anyone's hands but Scott, I might have gone for this on the grounds of how bug-out, batshit bizarre the notion is. But look at the final movie and wonder how that would have fitted in any way that was remotely fun or deliriously demented. More likely we'd have got Matchstick Men meets Robin Hood. Which wouldn't have been nearly crazy enough. 


This is the guy who's all about story, remember, and that was his premise. There's a germ of this remaining, when Crowe's Robin Longstride takes the sword of the dying sheriff (Douglas Hodge, of the recent Red Sparrow and on scene-stealing form in the BBC's Decline and Fall) and returns it to his father (Max von Sydow), where he's persuaded to assume the man's identity. But going from a starting point focussing on the Sheriff to one where he' barely in it is the kind of thing Scott, the master of narrative, who labelled the Reiff and Voris script "fucking ridiculous… It was terrible…", decides over a fat stogie. Like requiring Helgeland to churn out rewrites "to focus on archery and archers" because the director has become obsessed with the subject. Or having the Sheriff chasing himself around for the entire movie. 


The various rewrites and production delays resulting from Scott's erratic demands saw the budget spiral to $200m (again, this is the guy who berated exorbitant price tags when Alien Covenant, a notorious underperformer, was released). If it had come in for less, Robin Hood would probably have been regarded as a hit (it grossed $322m worldwide), but any talk of a sequel promptly expunged itself. 


Notably, the latest take, imaginatively called Robin Hood (!) has been shuffled in the schedules twice. Like Scott's, it's an origins tale (and like King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, it comes replete with brazenly anachronistic costuming), but unlike Scott's it doesn’t star a 45-year-old (Taron Egerton’s nearly two decades younger than Crowe was). Yes, the decision by Ridders to go with an actor older than Connery was when he played a veteran Robin in Robin and Marion is one that made very little sense, any more than his accent (which saw him curtail an interview with Mark Lawson when he was accused of forcing Irish tones on East Midlands ones). Ironically, the delays on the picture led to tension between actor and director, and they haven’t paired since. 


King RichardWill God be pleased with my sacrifice?
Robin LongstrideNo, he won't.
King RichardWhy do you say that?
Robin LongstrideThe massacre at Acre, sir.

Crowe's merely okay in the movie, which means he's far and away better than the lead in Scott's previous period romp, the era near-identical Kingdom of Heaven (both also featured Richard the Lionheart). But there isn't enough to make the character stand out, brogue aside. And (whisper it) he looks a little silly in those Sherwood greens (and much more "Russell Crowe, fearless warrior" when clad in chainmail). As with Balian in Kingdom, Robin speaks his mind via a very modern strain of enlightenment. The screenplay during the first half, however, manages to juggle plot and character engagingly, such that the deficiencies don’t intrude on an engrossingly-established series of conflicting perspectives and goals.  


We have Mark Strong's Sir Godfrey, English when he wants to be, plotting with King Philip of France (Jonathan Zaccai); there's a nice visceral moment where he eats the bloody oyster the king has just cut himself opening. There's Robin, masquerading as a knight, returning the crown to John, a scene pregnant with potential exposure as both Sir Godfrey and William Marshal (William Hurt) know he isn’t what he seems. William Hurt sounds like a strangled budgerigar attempting his English accent; it's a shame he's distracting, because there’s another interesting plot strand of the loyal Marshal dismissed when he's unable to disguise his contempt for the new king's methods.


Then there's Isaac, really good as John in an oversized crown. Such that it's a shame there's nothing mould-breaking about his craven, leching incarnation, aside from having a mum (Eileen Atkins) who gives him a hard time; if Scott wasn't upsetting the applecart with the Sheriff and Robin, he might at least have given John a bit more nuance. As it is, Peter Ustinov's is probably the definitive portrayal. There are occasional nice touches, such as John's promise of a charter of rights for the people in return of fair rule over the land ("I give my word. Such a charter shall be written. Upon my mother’s life"). Naturally, he hates his mother, so changes his mind at the first opportunity ("I did not make myself king. God did").


Sir Walter LocksleyI woke this morning with a tumescent glow. I feel invigorated. 84. A miracle!

There are also some highly enjoyable scenes between Crowe and Max von Sydow, even if they're weighed down by the turgid Robin backstory, whereby Crowe just happens to have forgotten his heritage until Max's Sir Walter nudges him (dad's a stonemason, visionary, philosopher) with a man-of-destiny spiel. When brute Sir Godfrey kills blind old Walter Robin's rise to people's hero is assured, leading to revenge by that there archery Scott got so obsessed with ("This is for you, Walter!" cries Robin, operating at a cheese factor of maximum gorgonzola).

 

Other traditional elements of the story are damp squibs. We barely see Robin doing any outlawing (this is only an origins, after all), merely stealing a grain train. I suspect this is the first Robin and Marion where Aussie actors play both leads, but unfortunately, the main takeaway is that their romance fails to spark. Scott and Helgeland's pallid idea of beefing up Cate Blanchett's character is to have her ride into battle wearing a knight's helmet at the end àla Éowyn in The Return of the King. Which, frankly, just comes across as desperate and naff (as Robin says "For God's sake Marian!") The beach invasion is at least noteworthy for there being useless kings on both sides.


Robin LongstrideIf it is illegal for a man to fend for himself, how then can he be a man in his own right?

And the merry men are given short shrift, thus fail to become very interesting, despite the efforts of Kevin Durand and Mark Addy as Little John and Friar Tuck respectively. Blink and you'll miss Matthew Macfadyen as the new Sheriff of Nottingham ("I’m French, on my mother's side” he protests to Strong and his men). 


I think I might have seen the Director's Cut on first viewing, but I've little desire to revisit it. Scott takes too long getting to the punch anyway, and then decides to add fifteen minutes? By the time we reach the big battle, any interest in this telling has been long exhausted, and the glimmers of wit and intrigue have given away to clumsy, ham-fisted character moments and plotting. This does, at least, represent the final chapter of an autopilot trilogy on Ridders' part, telling unremarkable tales in routine fashion, but it is, nominally, the best of the three. It's also the Crowe-led bookend to a decade of (mostly) bankability he probably never thought he would see, but one that confirmed he didn't really have much to offer apart from technical prowess. The irony was, just as you thought it was time to give up all hope, Scott would appear interested once more in his next two movies. Of course, the responses to those two movies were even more mixed, but at least Sir Ridley seemed awake.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

What we sell are hidden truths. Our territory is the mind. Our merchandise is fear.

The Avengers 5.1: The Fear Merchants
The colour era doesn't get off to such a great start with The Fear Merchants, an Avengers episode content to provide unstinting averageness. About the most notable opinion you’re likely to come away with is that Patrick Cargill rocks some magnificent shades.

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

Just make love to that wall, pervert!

Seinfeld 2.10: The Statue
The Premise
Jerry employs a cleaner, the boyfriend of an author whose book Elaine is editing. He leaves the apartment spotless, but Jerry is convinced he has made off with a statue.

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …

Do not run a job in a job.

Ocean’s 8 (2018)
(SPOILERS) There’s nothing wrong with the gender-swapped property per se, any more than a reboot, remake or standard sequel exploiting an original’s commercial potential (read: milking it dry). As with those more common instances, however, unless it ekes out its own distinctive territory, gives itself a clear reason to be, it’s only ever going to be greeted with an air of cynicism (whatever the current fashion for proclaiming it valid simply because it's gender swapped may suggest to the contrary).  The Ocean's series was pretty cynical to start with, of course – Soderbergh wanted a sure-fire hit, the rest of the collected stars wanted the kudos of working with Soderbergh on a "classy" crowd pleaser, the whole concept of remaking the '60s movie was fairly lazy, and by the third one there was little reason to be other than smug self-satisfaction – so Ocean's 8 can’t be accused of letting any side down. It also gives itself distinctively – stereo…

There’s still one man out here some place.

Sole Survivor (1970)
(SPOILERS) I’m one for whom Sole Survivor remained a half-remembered, muddled dream of ‘70s television viewing. I see (from this site) the BBC showed it both in 1979 and 1981 but, like many it seems, in my veiled memory it was a black and white picture, probably made in the 1950s and probably turning up on a Saturday afternoon on BBC2. Since no other picture readily fits that bill, and my movie apparition shares the salient plot points, I’ve had to conclude Sole Survivor is indeed the hitherto nameless picture; a TV movie first broadcast by the ABC network in 1970 (a more famous ABC Movie of the Week was Spielberg’s Duel). Survivor may turn out to be no more than a classic of the mind, but it’s nevertheless an effective little piece, one that could quite happily function on the stage and which features several strong performances and a signature last scene that accounts for its haunting reputation.

Directed by TV guy Paul Stanley and written by Guerdon Trueblood (The…

It’s all Bertie Wooster’s fault!

Jeeves and Wooster 3.4: Right Ho, Jeeves  (aka Bertie Takes Gussie's Place at Deverill Hall)
A classic set-up of crossed identities as Bertie pretends to be Gussie and Gussie pretends to be Bertie. The only failing is that the actor pretending to be Gussie isn’t a patch on the original actor pretending to be Gussie. Although, the actress pretending to be Madeline is significantly superior than her predecessor(s).

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …

Do you read Sutter Cane?

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
(SPOILERS) The concluding chapter of John Carpenter’s unofficial Apocalypse Trilogy (preceded by The Thing and Prince of Darkness) is also, sadly, his last great movie. Indeed, it stands apart in the qualitative wilderness that beset him during the ‘90s (not for want of output). Michael De Luca’s screenplay had been doing the rounds since the ‘80s, even turned down by Carpenter at one point, and it proves ideal fodder for the director, bringing out the best in him. Even cinematographer Gary K Kibbe seems inspired enough to rise to the occasion. It could do without the chugging rawk soundtrack, perhaps, but then, that was increasingly where Carpenter’s interests resided (as opposed to making decent movies).