Before I begin writing about the film, I’d like to comment about the similarities between Russell Crowe and Errol Flynn. Both actors are from down under.* Both notably played boxers in films, Flynn as Gentleman Jim Corbett and Crowe as James Braddock (in Cinderella Man). Neither actor could be considered a particularly stellar human being, if the stories one hears are true. And now both have portrayed the legendary outlaw of Sherwood Forest.
While Crowe is without question the finer actor, Flynn was the better Robin Hood. This isn’t Russell Crowe’s fault, just a matter of being in a movie that fails to live up to the standards set by the 1938 classic, The Adventures of Robin Hood. Which does not make it a bad movie, just not the movie a fan of Robin Hood might hope for.
The two reviews of the film that I’ve read (Roger Ebert’s and A.O. Scott’s) focus on the somber tone. This is a fair criticism, although there are more lighthearted moments than either of those two reviews would let you believe. A bigger issue to overcome, in my view, is that this story does not in any way conform to the legend of Robin Hood. All the characters are here (from Friar Tuck to Alan-a-Dale) but Director Ridley Scott has squeezed away all of the iconic scenes and themes of the traditional story. Gone is the splitting of the arrow. Nowhere do Robin and Little John square off with quarterstaffs on a log bridge. There is no mention of Normans and Saxons. Robin never makes a daring escape from Nottingham Castle — in fact, there is no Nottingham Castle. Nor is there any robbing from the rich to give to the poor.
What we are left with is a fairly exciting and competent action film, with amazing set pieces that put you in 12th century London, or on the shores at Dover with two clashing armies. We’ve got nice performances from Crowe and Cate Blanchett as Maid Marion (although she’s not a maiden when we first meet her, she is a widow), as well as the supporting actors. Mark Strong is a capable villain, Godfrey. Danny Huston makes a great King Richard in an all-to-brief role. And Matthew Macfadyen is way too good at playing the sniveling Sheriff of Nottingham (what happened to this former heart-throb?).
The bottom line, this is a Robin Hood film in name only (and really not even that, as I don’t believe the name Robin Hood is even used in the movie). If you can overlook this, then you will probably have a good time. If you can’t, just rent the Errol Flynn version again.
*Okay, Crowe was born in New Zealand, but has made Australia his home for years.