Robin Hood (2010)
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Robin Hood (2010)

Blu-ray

DVD

Some pieces of literature become enduring because they contain themes that transcend a single time and place. In such cases it becomes the responsibility of each generation to take such a story, add their own personalizing spin making the tale their own. while this axiom originally applied to the written form of literature the methodology behind this concept existed in oral history and has extended to the current most popular format for story telling; the motion picture. One excellent example of this phenomenon is the story of ‘Robin Hood’. Many people may dismiss this story as a pleasant action adventure or perhaps a love story but if you take the time to consider it you will see that this story has every element necessary for great literature. Of course there is the aforementioned action complete with archers with deadly aim and swordsmen engaged in skillful fights to the death. The romantic side of this story is legendary with Robin and Marion is classic lovers fighting to be together. What is not so obvious are some of the deeper themes of the story as it chronicles the historical conflict between the Anglo-Saxons and the Britons hailing from Normandy. While much of the historic eye was focused on the Crusades back home on that sceptred isle a fight was underway that not only affected the privileged peerage but involved the concept of rights ordained by law not the ephemeral royal decree. The essence of the dramatic element of this story is political, moralistic and philosophical elements that have been heatedly debated for a very long time. There is a variation of the Robin Hood legend for every conceivable demographic. I grew up enjoying the classic 1938 version featuring Errol Flynn but there has been a reimagining every decade or so including an animated version by Disney and a golden age television series. The latest version considered here reunites the action hero presentation by Russell Crowe under the direction of Ridley Scott.

Your appreciation of this incarnation of ‘Robin Hood’ will be affected more than usual but the previous version you considered your favorite. This film is much grittier and violent than any version I can recall. In fairness this is just giving the audience what they demand. Considering it teams Crowe and Scott there are several stylistic similarities with their previous film together it is natural that the film has been called ‘Gladiator in Tights’ although this in no way implies and frivolity in this version. The picture painted of the titular hero is not the usual altruistic woodsman stealing from the rich redistributing that wealth to the poor. Crowe gives us a much different view of this legendary figure. This view depicts him as a displaced mercenary who honed his considerable combat and tactical skills in the infamous third Crusade. Now, back in England he is drawn into a class struggle that is pervading most aspects of their society. Instigating much of the grief is the newly crowned King John (Oscar Isaac). Unlike his late older brother, Richard the Lionhearted, John is a self serving, greedy narcissist intent on draining the population dry through the imposition of cruel, punitive taxation. His main enforcer, Sir Godfrey (Mark Strong), is unbeknownst to most actually an agent of the King of France who is using the color of his authority to sow the seeds of unrest that potentially lead to civil war making England ripe for takeover by the French.

Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe), Alan A'Dale (Alan Doyle), Will Scarlett (Scott Grimes) and Little John (Kevin Durand) come back from fighting beside King Richard only to be waylaid by Godfrey and his henchmen. Robin impersonates nobleman Robert Loxley, a dead knight that Robin promised he would return his sword to his aged father, Sir Walter (Max von Sydow). The blind former knight implores Robin to continue the charade in order to help his daughter-in-law, Lady Marian (Cate Blanchett). Their estate at the edge of Sherwood Forest is being taxed into poverty and constantly raided by the displaced commoners living in the forest. During the raids against the Crown Robin uncovers the insidious plot being run by Godfrey. Soon the fight escalates to the survival of the English nation.

Don’t let the PG-13 rating or the tradition of snappy dialogue and overly staged battles deceive you; the level of violence here is much greater than the typical Robin Hood flick. While the romantic overtures are still retained the chemistry between Crowe and Blanchett is somewhat contrived unlike the freewheeling banter that flew between Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. And while Strong rises to the task of screen villain he fails to muster the panache and Basil Rathbone could provide with ease. Stylistically, Scott is up to his high standards. The fast pace action hardly ever pauses as the film drives towards the main epic battle. One aspect that is highlighted in this version is the power that can be exerted by a regular man even when it requires facing down the establishment. Fortunately Scott is skillful in the way he eludes to the current political debacle remaining focused on what his goal for the film was; an exciting, action packed film and to that end he was successful. In some ways the film could have benefited from more time in the editing bay cutting the length a bit. Some of the extra scenes undoubtedly required for the exposition of the socio-political climate vital to the character motivation in this telling. This does complicate the story pulling it even further away from the classic battle between good and evil. This is also the first version of the story created specifically with high definition in mind. The lush greens of the forest and deep blue of the water and sky is spectacular. One of the best aspects of Blu-ray is how details become evident in a period piece such as this it translates to a remarkable level of detail especially in such things as the texture of the clothing or roughness of buildings. While not the best Robin Hood around this one is worthy to be included in the company of the others.

Posted 09/26/2010

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