Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood is another epic action movie—and a scathing indictment of taxation without representation, government control of wealth and religion, and abnegation of man’s rights. That the filmmakers ultimately misplace its theme—by sticking to an expository structure ala Batman Begins—puts Robin Hood slightly off its mark.
Yet it remains Mr. Scott’s best picture and the year’s most exciting movie. Far from perfect, with incoherent fight close-ups in which nothing is discernible, predictable or confusing plot points, and a tendency to overplay the script, Robin Hood is immensely watchable. Characters are intense, action is gripping, and the scope is wide and larger than life. Forget what you know of Robin Hood–that he steals from the rich to give to the poor—because this version sets the legend upright; he is an avenger for justice.
The story begins in the 12th century with a man named Robin Longstride (Mr. Crowe), who fights with King Richard the Lion-Hearted for England against France. Using fire, tar, stones, and arrows as weapons, the battles are swift and brutal. Robin is instantly identifiable as honest, brave, and intelligent. He thinks, he trades, and he owes no one, which he states as an absolute. He fights with valor.
The king notices him, which doesn’t bode well for Robin, and, when the king falls in battle, a scheme to unleash a foreign enemy from within is born—another parallel to our times—and the passionate hero steps into the fray. As the French conspire to invade England, the new king acts like a petulant welfare-statist, imposing exorbitant taxes and seizing private property. At times, Robin Hood is like a dramatization of the Obama administration’s policy to redistribute wealth. One poor villager pleads that “we have no money left to give.”
The Church is complicit except for a beekeeper named Friar Tuck (Mark Addy) who does what he pleases and regards merriment as rightly within everyone’s domain. Tuck is one of many individualists in a place called Nottingham who resist the government’s confiscation of wealth. A spirited woman named Marion (Cate Blanchett) resides there, too, defending her land, scowling at robbers, sending them scurrying back into the woods. Living with her blind father-in-law (Max von Sydow) and struggling to survive, she’s a brave, bold person herself.
Enter Robin Hood, not yet known by that name, riding into Nottingham to deliver a message and keep a promise. The nobleman father-in-law has an idea to save his property from the government and it co-exists with Robin’s goal to lay low. The band of merry men—Little John among others—are never far away, letting off steam by cavorting with the ladies and imbibing what Friar Tuck has to offer.
As the plot to invade England escalates at the hands of a dastardly villain (Mark Strong)—think Rahm Emanuel on a horse with a sword—the looting, sanctioned by the King’s new policy to raise taxes, begins in earnest. “Pay or burn,” tax collectors demand upon arrival in Nottingham, where a puny-minded sheriff (Matthew Macfadyen) follows orders. The government exterminates those who resist.
This is not Grandpa’s Robin Hood. There’s no frivolity, little derring-do, and no speeches about the evil of making money. Instead, there’s a tea party afoot, born of a handsome hero who thinks and remains calm in a crisis and wields a bow and arrow with precision. He has flashbacks to childhood in Nottingham and his acts of rebellion become necessary for him to live and be left alone. What drives him are the words on a sword: “Rise and rise again until lambs become lions.”
Amid gallant rescues, blazing battles, and bolts of lightning cutting the gray sky in the distance, this is the civilized world in turmoil, with Robin Hood leading the nation toward liberty and enlightenment. He deals in contracts—neither having faith nor initiating force—and, when foreign invaders make their presence known, he steps up to speak out and call for a “charter of rights” establishing “liberty by law”. Neither a prince nor a thief; this Robin Hood is a man of reason.
Marion, who resists him, equals him. When the government comes to steal her wealth, dictating—right out of Obama’s red book—that “no one should have 4,000 acres” Marion snaps in reply: “5,000 acres.” No little woman depending on others to defend her property, she knows how, when, and why to use a weapon.
The power-lust of religion meets the power-lust of the state and, as England becomes a God-state, Robin Hood assumes his well-deserved role as outlaw, legend, hero to the oppressed. With strong characters, stunning conflicts, and Russell Crowe playing Robin Hood just right, getting there is half the fun.