Here's the link to the published version of the review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:
Robin Hood (2010)
It's hard to say just how many different version of the Robin Hood legend there have been on film. It seems everyone has tried to tackle it at one time or another from the amazing 30s version with Errol Flynn to a much later version starring Kevin Costner. Mel Brooks has even given us his humorous take with "Robin Hood: Men in Tights." Now Ridley Scott, reteaming with Russell Crowe, gives us a different perspective on the old tale.
Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) is an archer in King Richard's army. The king is on his way back to England from the crusades, pillaging castles as he goes. After Richard's tragic death, Robin and his friends decide to return home themselves, but on their way, they encounter a group of knights who had just been ambushed while trying to return King Richard's crown to his family. The leader of this group, Robert Loxley (Douglas Hodge), asks Robin to return his sword to his father, Walter Loxley (Max von Sydow). Robin agrees to and also comes up with a plan for him and his friends to masquerade as knights for safe passage back home.
Upon Robin's return, he presents the crown to John (Oscar Isaac), Richard's brother, who is now king. Robin returns to Loxley's home to deliver the bad news, which is met with a mix of grief and something else quite unexpected. Meanwhile, the new king seeks counsel from a new friend, Godfrey (Mark Strong), who recommends taking an army through England to collect taxes. However, what the king doesn't know is that Godfrey is in league with the king of France, who hopes to invade while England is busy with a civil war.
This is certainly quite a different take on the old story, and that ends being what is most enjoyable about it. Most other versions have only taken the very well-known part of the tale, where Robin is already an outlaw, stealing money from the rich, and giving it to the poor while being hunted down by Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham. Scott's version is more of a prequel to those events, eventually leading up to the beginning of the part we're familiar with.
In tone, it's probably most similar to the Kevin Costner version from the 90s. It's certainly as dark and as gritty, if not more so. It gives it a good sense of realism. I can't speak for how accurate it's telling of history is, but its ruggedness gives it the feeling as though this could have actually happened. This certainly couldn't be further in tone from the beloved Errol Flynn version.
Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe are no strangers to such a tone, having previously worked on the multiple-award-winning film "Gladiator" together. The directing is top-notch, as we have come to expect from the man who has given us such other films as "Alien" and "Blade Runner." The screenplay, written by Brian Helgeland ("A Knight's Tale," "L.A. Confidential") has a good mix of action, drama, and even a few light comedic moments thrown in.
Something else that I found particularly interesting about this version is its wider perspective. Usually we only concentrate on the few characters that are used in most versions, but here, we get those characters and others in a much larger plot that threatens England.
This does lead to a problem for the film though. In trying to concentrate on so many characters, it ends up sidelining many of them, including Will Scarlett (Scott Grimes), Little John (Kevin Durand), and the Sheriff of Nottingham (Matthew Macfadyen). It sadly also sidelines Robin for much of the second and third acts as he gets to know Marian Loxley (Cate Blanchett), who was married to Robert.
This is what makes much of the second act feel stretched out, while act three feels stretched out by battle scenes that go on for quite some time. It goes almost directly from a battle in Nottingham to the large, climactic, predictable final battle, part of which actually had me laughing out loud due to how silly it was. The big, climactic battle seems to be a trend with big action films nowadays, for I was immediately reminded of how stretched out the last acts of "Avatar" and "Alice in Wonderland" felt because of their own battles.
Despite these problems, it is still worth seeing mainly because of its fascinating take on the characters. As far as I know, this is a part of the tale that has never been told before, and it becomes quite interesting to watch as things fall into place to where Robin, and I hope I'm not spoiling anything here, becomes the outlaw we know and love. 3/4 stars.