| The fifth collaboration of Oscar winners Ridley Scott (“American Gangster,” “Kingdom of Heaven” and “Gladiator”) and Russell Crowe (“State of Play,” “Cinderella Man” and “A Beautiful Mind”) is a rousing action adventure that plays fast and loose with English history.
Commoner Robin Longstride (Crowe) is a sharpshooting archer in the army of King Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston). The battle-weary soldiers are returning from the Third Crusade after a 10-year absence.
The movie opens in 1199 with their siege on a French castle. Richard is killed by an arrow in the neck. Sir Robert Loxley of Nottingham (Douglas Hodge) places the crown in his saddle bag and, accompanied by the royal guards, heads for the coastline to catch a boat back to England. They are ambushed in the forest by an opposing force led by the movie’s villain Godfrey (Mark Strong from “Kick-Ass” and “The Young Victoria”).
Robin and his fellow comrades-in-arms Little John (Kevin Durand), Allan A’Dayle (Alan Doyle) and Will Scarlett (Scott Grimes) arrive on the scene later and scatter the outlaw gang.
Robin promises the dying Robert that he will return his sword to his father Sir Walter Loxley (Max von Sydow from “Shutter Island,” “Minority Report” and “The Exorcist”). Robin and his men recover the crown, which they view as their ticket home. They mount horses and don the armor, helmets and swords of the fallen Saxons, pretending to be noblemen.
Robin assumes the identity of Robert and delivers the crown to Eleanor of Aquitaine (Eileen Atkins), the deceased king’s mother. She places it on the head of her youngest son John (Oscar Isaac) who becomes the new king.
Robin makes his way to Nottingham. He discovers that Robert was married to a headstrong woman named Marion (Oscar winner Cate Blanchett from “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and “The Aviator”).
The blind and feeble Walter wants Robin to continue the ruse so the Loxleys will not have to forfeit their 5,000 acres of land. Robin and Marion pretend to be husband and wife while getting to know each other as man and woman.
This prequel written by Brian Helgeland (“Green Zone,” “Mystic River” and “L.A. Confidential”) will be foreign to most viewers and isn’t the familiar tale of the people’s outlaw robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. There is no mention of Sherwood Forest or the Merry Men. The Sheriff of Nottingham (Matthew Macfadyen) plays a minor role.
This origin story actually ends where most Robin Hood films begin. It takes awhile to get your bearings as a myriad of rivalries are established and the major players take sides.
The movie plays out like an old-fashioned Western with Robin absent the white hat leading the good guys into battle against the French invaders.
Scott is a master in choreographing grandeur and spectacle over a vast canvas. The climactic battle enhanced by CGI special effects spread out over the last 30 minutes is worth the price of admission.
A rich musical score by Marc Streitenfeld stirs the blood. Crowe is extremely fit and back in fighting shape again. The romantically tinged interplay between Crowe and Blanchett is priceless.
The cast of veteran actors do their job in a workmanlike manner and maintain the serious mood. Other strengths are the medieval costumes and the production design.
The movie’s major drawbacks are its excessive 140-minute running time and the difficult-to-understand English accents, with the worst offender being Crowe. Better editing and the use of subtitles throughout would solve these missteps.
Key supporting players are William Hurt (as royal adviser William Marshall), Mark Addy (as Friar Tuck) and Lea Seydoux (as Queen Isabella). Partially in French with English subtitles.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"