Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen, Robin Hood, Robin Hood, with his band of men... While the men are present (in a manner of speaking), the glens – and the green costume, the jaunty hat, the thigh-slapping acts of derring-do – are pretty much absent from Ridley Scott's interesting twist on the Robin Hood legend. This, you see, is that dreaded word so abused by Tim Burton: a "reimagining". However for the most part it works and, by taking the untold story that leads to Robin Hood becoming Robin Hood in the first place (the film essentially ends where nearly every other film starts), this is not the pointless addition to the already overcrowded canon we feared.
It's not without its flaws however. It's overlong. There's a noticeable imbalance between talking and action, although the action is ultimately worth the wait. Accents wander amusingly across several oceans and half-a-dozen English counties–- were all the English actors busy playing bad guys in Hollywood films? The plot gets so deeply political an unscheduled toilet break could leave you twiddling your thumbs until the next big battle, and it's all so po-faced that you'll almost be begging for some of the knockabout humour the legend usually gets told with. On the plus side, the last time Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott spent time together in France, the result was A Good Year and Robin Hood is a marked improvement on that. Mind you, so's Norbit, so that's not saying much.
So, yes, France. This tale kicks off with Robin Longstride (Crowe) as an archer in King Richard's crusading army. Richard (the scenery-chewing Huston) is on his way home. Indeed, once they've ransacked this final castle, they'll be back to England, where he can take his throne again, prevent his slimy brother John (Isaac) becoming king, keep his mother happy (the typically classy Atkins) and restore some order to the tax-grabbing antics that have been going on.
The best laid plans being what they are, however, a lucky French arrow puts pay to Richard's aims and his ability to breathe. With the king dead, Longstride and fellow soldiers Little John (Durand), Will Scarlett (Grimes as, apparently, an Irish Welshman with an accent that makes him sound like Dick Van Dyke's ginger lovechild) and Shane McGowan-alike minstrel Allan A'Dayle (Doyle, a musical buddy of Crowe, as it happens) decide to cut loose and flee to England. En route, they run into Godfrey (Strong), a crony of the French King, who's ambushed what he thinks is the king's escort only to discover that: a) Richard's already pushing up the daisies; and b) four former English soldiers can see off marauding French types with relative ease. Rah.
Spotting an opportunity (and a boat), Robin et al nick the knights' outfits, sail back to London, present the dead king's crown to his waiting mother, get a ringside seat at the impromptu coronation of King John and then head to Nottingham, to fulfil Sir Robert Loxley's dying wish and return a sword to his elderly father (von Sydow - seriously, wasn't ANYONE English available?). Here, in a bit of a Martin Guerre twist, Robin meets Sir Robert's widow Marion (the excellent Blanchett), has to pass himself off for a while as the late Sir Robert and ends up leading a rebellion against the invading French army.
Actually, given all of that, it's a wonder they squeezed it all into 140 minutes. As satisfying as it is to have a mainstream movie that requires the audience to concentrate, it's hard to shake the feeling that less would have been more. While the action is worth waiting for – the opening attack on the French castle is thrilling, the final Saving Private Ryan-esque battle doubly so – you can't help but wish there had been less talking inbetween. If you can watch the middle hour without screaming internally "for Christ's sake, will someone please just fire a fucking arrow at something?" then you've done better than me, that's for certain. All in all though? This is a perfectly decent, mostly solid film that bodes well for, one assumes, the inevitable sequel.
EXTRAS ★★★½ The film is available both in the original theatrical version (2:20:26) or the extended director's cut (2:35:48). On the theatrical cut, a Bonus View option called Director's Notebook offers background information about the making of the film. There are also deleted and extended scenes, with optinal commentary from editor Pietro Scalia's; the making-of featurette Rise and Rise Again (1:02:41); Art of Nottingham, a compendium of slideshows and galleries; a marketing archive with two theatrical trailers and six TV spots.