Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Con Man Who Accidentally Became A Hero

While I’m not in the south of France this week, I do have the chance to talk about Cannes’ opening night film, because, through some strange happening, Robin Hood opened here in America less than a week after its premiere at the Festival.

Essentially, if you like Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, and battles on a grand scale, you’ll like Robin Hood. If you’re looking for a by-the-book interpretation of the traditional story, you’ll most likely have a different reaction. It’s certainly not essential cinema, but for what it is, it’s solid.

The film clocks in at a breezy 2 hours and 20 minutes, though it feels much shorter, which I believe is to its credit. If you’re watching a so-called “long” movie and are surprised when it’s done “already,” it’s certainly a cut above the traditional posture of head on fist or (god forbid) the perpetual banging of skull with plastic water bottle to keep awake.

Originally, the project was going to be called Nottingham and was to feature Crowe as a heroic Sheriff of Nottingham. Ridley Scott was apparently less than thrilled with this concept and moved to take the script in a much more traditional direction.

Or not.

Robin Hood is not the usual story of an outlaw in Sherwood Forest accompanied by a band of misfits who go about doing good and evading the clutches of the evil Sheriff. This story is set against the backdrop of an invasion by the French against a leadership-challenged, newly established King John. Robin Longstride (Crowe) pretends to be Robin of Loxley (nice touch, no?), one thing leads to another, and Robin finds himself a key figure in what must happen.

Crowe and Blanchett are solid, although their roles don’t exactly challenge them in any kind of way. It occurs to me that their parts might be generic in that they could have been played by any number of actors, where, on the other hand, can you imagine anyone else as Maximus in Gladiator or Elizabeth I in Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age? I can’t. Seeing Max von Sydow, one of cinema’s greatest actors, was a pleasant surprise, though his performance is a far cry from the brilliance of his work with Ingmar Bergman.

On one level, I quite enjoyed the film, though I was surprised that it didn’t involve the conventional trappings of the Robin Hood story. I wonder if it’s entirely fair to bill it as “Robin Hood” at all, as the film I saw really isn’t quote-unquote Robin Hood so much as it’s the origin story for what is clearly intended to be a franchise. I don’t know how well this is going to work, as Ridley Scott’s never really gotten involved in making a series of films. (no, Alien doesn’t count, as he only directed the first film) Additionally, Russell Crowe’s previous attempt at anchoring the first film in a series, 2003’s wonderful Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, failed to generate the revenue to warrant a follow-up.

Based on the returns of Robin Hood’s opening weekend, an estimated $111.1 million. I’m not so sure this is going to happen. That amount looks great on paper, but the film’s budget was approximately $237 million. For a film to be considered a success, it generally has to make 2 ½ - 3 times its budget. So, for Robin Hood to make some dough and get that sequel greenlit, we’re looking at a hopeful return of almost $600 million. You really think that’s in the cards?

3 ½ stars out of 5.

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