Kings and Arrows: With Robin Hood, Ridley Scott shoots for a nationalist epic.

Director Ridley Scott has little sympathy for tyrants—so Gladiator would have us believe. In his latest, though, he seeks to unite audiences against an even more pernicious enemy: ze French. So, whereas the iconic 1938 Erroll Flynn production made do with patently evil domestic villains (Claude Rains, winkingly ruthless as King John, and Basil Rathbone, a sallow, Iago-like Sheriff of Nottingham), here we get the equivocally bumbling, inconspicuous Sheriff (Matthew Macfayden) and a King Richard (a short-lived Danny Huston) whose bloodthirsty doings in the third Crusade leave King John (the impeccable Oscar Isaac) looking not entirely repulsive by comparison. Russell Crowe’s Robin, meanwhile, is no tree-hopping bucolic saint, though his skill with the bow is substantial. He’s actually a pretender to the Locksley coat of arms, coming as he does from common stock; his father, we learn, organized the 12th-century version of the IWW. Hence the glut of political sermonizing and the latter half of the film which, for all its predictably taut action sequences, feels almost like a Magna Carta history lesson. Cate Blanchett proves a worthy if undermotivated Lady Marian, and Robin’s courtship of her avoids, for the most part, chivalric clichés. (It helps that she’s an avowed non-virgin.) So perhaps Nottingham, the original title of this iteration, would’ve been more appropriate—for a titular hero, and such a famous one at that, Robin Hood himself emerges a curiously unpronounced character. (This is no knock on Crowe, who does exactly what we want him to. He even asks Lady Marian to help him remove his chain mail, the cheeky devil.) The earthiness of Scott’s Nottingham is welcome: no tights, few smiles, and the same brown-gray palette that offset Kevin Costner’s American accent in Prince of Thieves. But one wishes its villains got more of what was coming to them, and that Robin weren’t just another overachieving legionnaire. Instead, a film that sports an excellent cast, decent dialogue, and all the formal goodies of a historical romance forswears a provincial tale of derring-do in favor of a rather bland nationalist epic, wherein rich and poor may have their differences—but by God at least they’re English.

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