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Robin Hood

Robin Hood

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES: Director’s notebook version (off theatrical edition) (147 mins); Deleted scenes with introductions by editor Pietro Scalia (12 mins) HD; The Art of Nottingham (15 mins) HD; Rise and Rise Again: Making Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood (60 mins) HD; Part 1: Ballad, Legend, & Myth: Pre-Production; Part 2: The More the Merrier: Production; Part 3: No Quarter Given: Post-Production.

RIDLEY Scott seldom does things by half measures. Hence, the director’s take on the Robin Hood legend was always going to be visually spectacular, as well as something a little bit different from previous incarnations of the hero outlaw.

The ensuing reinvention is a barnstorming return to epic Gladiator form that examines how Robin came to be classed as an outlaw in the first place.

It ends at the point most Robin Hoods begin, goes out of its way not to include too many popcorn elements (or key Robin Hood signature scenes) and plays to the strengths of its top drawer cast rather than too many effects heavy set pieces.

There are battles, of course, and they are mounted on the grandest of scales (as fans would expect from the visionary behind Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven). But there’s also much scheming and political game-playing, as well as the rediscovery of one’s identity and romance. It’s an adult blockbuster that exhilarates visually, but also engages the brain.

Set in 1199, the film picks up in France as Richard The Lionheart (Danny Huston) attempts to return from the Third Crusade with right-hand man Robert Loxley (Douglas Hodge) at his side.

When both men are slain en route, circumstance places the fate of the crown in the hands of one of their archers, Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe), who undertakes to return Richard’s crown to London and Loxley’s sword to Nottingham.

Once in Nottingham, however, he’s compelled to pose as Loxley by the fallen man’s father (Max Von Sydow), so that Lady Marion (Cate Blanchett) can keep her land once the family patriarch has passed on.

In doing so, Longstride becomes caught up in the politics of the time, as Northern lords threaten to rise up against the new King John in protest against his taxation methods, while the traitorous Sir Godfrey (Mark Strong) paves the way for a French invasion.

Clocking in at two hours and 20 minutes, Robin Hood is the type of blockbuster that feels half the length by virtue of its sustained momentum.

Scott is a past master at creating compelling epics and here, once again, maintains a keen balance between the talking and the action.

As a result, his cast all make their mark despite carrying some dodgy accents (the film’s weak link). Crowe is suitably earnest and heroic as Longstride, while his scenes with Blanchett’s feisty Marion are well played and lend the film its heart and soul.

But there’s sterling support from the likes of Mark Strong, ever-excellent as the chief villain of the piece, William Hurt, as one of Robin’s unlikely political allies, Max Von Sydow as his adopted father, and Mark Addy, Kevin Durand and Scott Grimes as his merry (if under-used) men.

Die-hard Robin Hood fans looking forward to seeing the more traditional battle of wits between Robin and The Sheriff of Nottingham (Matthew Macfadyen) and gradually recruiting his merry men (long-sticks and all) may lament the lack of such scenes, but Scott has delivered on his promise to put forward something different.

This is an absorbing character study that contains contemporary political resonance as well as blockbuster spectacle.

The set pieces are amazing, too, whether its the thrill of watching Crowe’s Robin despatch his arrows with slo-mo accuracy, or the wider awe of seeing some of the incredible battles unfold (the beach-bound finale is particularly epic).

Indeed, such is the success of this latest Scott-Crowe partnership that the prospect of seeing a second outing between them in this guise – and thus the furthering of the story – is an extremely mouth-watering prospect and something to hope they’ll consider.

Robin Hood is, in short, a thoroughly enjoyable ride that marks the first true success of the 2010 blockbuster season.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 2hrs 20mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: September 20, 2010