Ridley Scott's film is heavy on story, low on silliness, and always compelling.
I must preface this review with by admitting the story of Robin Hood is one that has never appealed. I've not watched or read a single account of the legend, as much as it is ingrained in our culture. So Ridley Scott's gritty and historical imagining of the folk tale can be seen without comparison to the likes of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
And what context Brian Helgeland's vast and ambitious screenplay gives us, as Scott's film is heavy on story, low on silliness, and always compelling. Russell Crowe reunites with Scott for a fifth time, and it's their best work together since Gladiator. Crowe is subtle and underplays his Robin Longstride, letting the superb supporting cast run away with the film. Mark Strong could be at risk of his bad guy shtick becoming tedious and predictable, but sears the screen as the treacherous Godfrey, advisor to Prince John - Oscar Isaac channelling Joaquin Phoenix's immature, reckless and spoilt turn in Gladiator to great effect, and, similarly, grabbing the most memorable scenes.
When Richard The Lionheart is killed on the 12th century crusades, lowly archer Robin ends up leading a band of men (including a likeable Kevin Durand as Little John, providing what little comic relief there is) back to England with the king's crown. They are imbroiled in Godfrey's plotting with France, and a nation at war with itself after King John's excessive taxation. Robin takes on the identity of deceased knight Robert Loxley, son of Max von Sydow's elderly but spirited Sir Walter. Loxley Jr's widow is Marion, who is valiantly holding her community together in difficult times. Cate Blanchett is bewitching as a woman who will fight her cause, and contrived manner in which she and Robin eventually fall for each other is moving and believable. No simpering damsel in distress, she recalls Lord of the Rings' Eowyn in several scenes, in both dignity and valour.
A long film, 140 minutes, but Scott keeps the tension throughout with his cast's performances and infrequent, but terrific battle scenes. It's only been weeks since Neil Marshall's disappointing Centurion, which seemed to think a thrilling history lesson could be told with relentless bloodshed, but Scott's battles are done with words and defiance. His recreation of 12th century England is stunning, and any CGI used is seamless. At first look it appeared this Robin Hood would depend on Gladiator-style action, but it's meaty and carries the weight of a television series, slowly allowing the viewer to be told a story, without insulting their intelligence by using handy jumps in plot and logic. A massive surprise and a welcome return to form from the once-brilliant Scott.