17 May 2010
ROBIN HOOD (Dir. Ridley Scott, 2010, US) - So the legend begins...
After the trauma of Iron Man Part Deux, it was a comfort to know that not all Hollywood summer tent poles films are underwhelming and pretentious. British auteur or should I craftsman, Ridley Scott, has had somewhat of an intermittent career of late. Aside from Gladiator, many of the collaborations with Russell Crowe have fell short of the mark both commercially and critically. This lean period has included films such as A Good Year and Body of Lies - both which feature a miscast Russell Crowe. Crowe's stoic persona has often been compared to the old school Hollywood real men of Mitchum and Cooper and he certainly seems to have far greater screen presence than most of the leading men of his generation. With their latest film, arguably both Scott and Crowe return to the safe territory of the hugely successful Gladiator by refashioning the Robin Hood myth for a new contemporary audience. Some critics have said that it is simply an attempt to reclaim lost ground in terms of box office and the open weekend figures certainly seem to suggest that the epic canvas is one that strikes a chord with audiences. I'm not going to say that Robin Hood is a return to form for Ridley Scott as I would argue against most critics who seem to be of the opinion that he regained his form when he directed Gladiator. I would argue Scott's last great film was way back in 91 with Thelma and Louise which was one that relied greatly on a wonderfully written screenplay. Scott's take on Robin Hood rejects many of the previous Americanised interpretations of the myth yet it also holds on to a number of crowd pleasing conventions including the notion of the merry men.
Some have compared this to Nolan's Batman Begins as it works effectively as an origins story, finishing at a point of non closure and setting up a potential franchise. The film is deceptively light in terms of action unlike the trailer which pitches it as another Gladiator but Scott's pictorial landscapes of the English countryside reminds one of Kubrick's Barry Lyndon. Very few film makers come close to the technical precision that characterises the cinema of Ridley Scott and even though he has wavered of late, his understanding of cinema as a spectacle recalls the proficiency with which many directors worked so effortlessly in the studio system. In terms of the wider context, the continuing economic crisis and the banking bail out makes the figure of Robin Hood quite a pertinent one as the resistance he shows to the ruling elite seems perfectly reasonable given the social disparity that plagues society today. His status as an outlaw constructs him as a populist symbol of the oppressed and ideologically I guess it is this sense of indignation what continues to make him such a fascinating and universally recognised myth. One a final note, Hollywood cinema continues to draw extensively from Homer's The Odyssey and the familiar narrative of the journey home is one which even Scott repeatedly invokes throughout the film but in a dramatically compelling way.