Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Bullseye

What is it these days with the movie industry trying their hardest to portray things "accurately"? It seems every filmmaker who once contented themselves with dreaming up original ideas before immortalizing them without needless speculation about exactly how things should be, now go the extra mile to make things as accurate as they possibly can. Medically accurate. Historically accurate. Scale accuracy. Hollywood is slowly becoming so obsessed with how things need to appear that I fear someday soon these same film legends will forget that they're trying to ENTERTAIN an audience. Ridley Scott I fear is strolling down that road. The director, whose sci-fi films Alien and Blade Runner were among the best of their genre, seems to be on a permanent accuracy-high since his good but over-hyped Gladiator won Best Picture in 2000. Since then, he's produced a number of films that have been lauded for their "historical accuracy" and while some, like Black Hawk Down or American Gangster, were fairly well received and made gobs of moolah, Kingdom of Heaven's lack of audience is a perfect example of what can happen if you too overly rely on such semantics. At least, these thoughts are what I had after seeing Scott's latest directorial effort, Robin Hood.

Russel Crowe and other people
In his take on the fabled hero who robbed from the rich and gave to the poor, Scott has attempted to draw upon the true happenings in England during the year 1199. Russell Crowe plays Robin Longstride, an archer in King Richard's Crusades and the war against Philip II of France. Along with his fellow archers Alan A'Dale (Alan Doyle) and Will Scarlett (Scott Grimes) and another soldier called Little John (Kevin Durand), Robin leaves the King's army and journeys home to England, where the men want to live in peace. Richard the Lionheart is killed in battle, and when news reaches England of the King's death, John (Oscar Isaac) is immediately anointed the new King of England. However, all is not well, as John's childhood friend and knight Godfrey (Mark Strong) secretly plots with the the French King to invade England, and John's rise to power facilitates the Barons of England-ruled territories to rebel against him, fracturing John's rule. Robin and his (not yet merry) men, meanwhile, have found themselves in Nottingham, a village where Robin is asked to fill in for a deceased knight, Robert Loxley, and meets Lady Marian (Cate Blanchett). Over the course of the film, Robin also learns much about his past, which had been a mystery to him for most of his life.

So tell me, why will a spoon hurt more?
This particular adaptation of the Robin Hood legend actually plays out more as a prequel to the more popularly known stories such as the one depicted by Disney. Starting not all that differently than the Kevin Costner variation, this new telling puts aside much of the feuds with King John and the Sheriff of Nottingham to focus more on the traitor Godfrey and the impending French invasion. In this way we actually get something different than we're used to, while also being exposed to enough familiar territory to be comfortable. It's a delicate balance, and this level of storytelling is one that Scott does well. As for the "historical accuracy" aspect, there are plenty of spots in the tale that Scott either glosses over or just plain gets wrong. I'm fairly certain the French never used a rowing variation of the Higgins boat made popular during the invasion of Normandy in WWII when invading England. Many bits, such as the details of King Richard's death or the inaccuracy of the French invasion, happen nothing like what appears in historical texts. In all, the "historical accuracy" claim seems to be unfounded and unnecessarily rolled out.

Marian wishes for more historical accuracy
This in itself isn't too bad when you consider the interesting characters and the actors who portray them. Though Crowe is a talented performer, he's really not suited to the role of hero. His best performance to date is of Officer Bud White in LA Confidential, a complete and unrepentant asshole, yet he keeps trying to play these noble roles of characters who are put under the thumb of oppression and lead those like him out of it. Robin is a capable, strong, and charismatic individual who for much of the film is just a common soldier. Yet by the end he's practically commanding the British army to victory. This is mostly the script's fault, but Crowe is not infallible, especially when his accent (which I guess is Scottish, but who can really tell?) changes constantly over the course of the film. He's also not quite so convincing when he's trying to be more suave. It's obvious he was cast in an attempt to recapture the glory of the Gladiator days, and here it just doesn't work. Blanchett is also talented as the Lady Marion, but she's another performer who had one major role and has been trying to duplicate it's success ever since. Her dialogue is mostly empty and voicing thoughts for the audience's consumption, and her eventual romance with Robin is not a little contrived. And of course Scott couldn't resist plugging her into soldier's garb when given the opportunity She's talented enough to pull it off, but there's only so much she can do. Imagine if she'd gotten a REAL role, what she could do with it. The standouts of the film are by far Mark Strong as Godfrey and Oscar Isaac as King John, Strong has been in a lot of good films lately, with Sunshine, Kick Ass and Sherlock Holmes painting the canvas with talent and believability. As the traitorous Godfrey he is charismatic in a deadly sense; he can convince you he's your best friend while sticking a blade in your spine. Isaac is more of a campy performance, but make no mistake: This is no Alan Rickman "spoon" stint. John is an unloved King, full of the things that make you hate even his appearance when he's on screen. He's everything Robin isn't, and it's a shame they don't spend more time together on screen, as that might have brought the film to another level.

They would settle for TARGET accuracy
The Merry Men get much less attention than they usually would, and that's a shame. Kevin Durand actually puts on what I think is his strongest show to date as Little John, the playful but dangerous second-in-command to Robin. The only non-archer in the group, Durand plays to his physicality the best of any role he's had since Lost. Mark Addy makes a fun Friar Tuck, recently taking over Nottingham's Abbey. With the odd habit of beekeeping (to make Mead, of course), Addy is fun in the little bit he's allowed to perform. Scott Grimes and Alan Doyle are fine if underused in their supporting roles. Grimes, best known for his work on Band of Brothers and ER, is charming but doesn't do too much else besides fire arrows. Doyle uses his musical talents as a member of the Celtic band Great Big Sea to play the minstrel A'Dale, but when he's not making music he's pretty much a side note. A little more attention to these men, as well as the professional William Hurt as Earl William Marshall would have helped expand the story and take a little away from focusing on Crowe's foibles.

William Hurt is better than this
Taken with a grain of salt (and avoiding talk of historical inaccuracies), I enjoyed Robin Hood in spite of it's problems. It's an overwrought mess, obviously bucking for awards but not good enough in any capacity to be deserving of them. It is however a fun viewing if you don't focus on how good it SHOULD have been. It's about on the same level of Hereafter: Interesting story with talent in both the director's and actor's chairs and yet somehow lacking in what makes a wonderful movie-going experience. Not equal to the sum of it's parts, I'd still recommend seeing this if you want to take in a fantastical action film with good acting, and it certainly was better than the movie you PROBABLY saw when it was in theaters, the disappointingly mediocre Iron Man 2. A word of warning to historical scholars, however: YOU won't be able to sit through this film.

6 comments:

brian said...

the extended cut of Kingdom of Heaven is amazing. Ok, I'll read your review now.

brian said...

Ok, a few more minor quibbles:

"Though Crowe is a talented performer, he's really not suited to the role of hero."

-Do yourself a favor and watch 'Master and Commander'.

"Grimes, best known for his work on Band of Brothers and ER, is charming but doesn't do too much else besides fire arrows."

-Wrong again. Scott Grimes is best known for 'Critters'. He was in ER?

Gianni said...

Master and Commander is an AMAZING movie, and Crowe is indeed amazing in it. I stand that it's the exception rather than the rule, however.

Opinioness of the World said...

"Blanchett is also talented as the Lady Marion, but she's another performer who had one major role and has been trying to duplicate it's success ever since."

I could not disagree more! I love Cate Blanchett. And I'm not sure which "one major role" you're referring to as she was fantastic in 'Elizabeth,''Babel,' 'Lord of the Rings,'and 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.' And I didn't even SEE her in 'The Aviator' of which she won her Oscar.

I also must agree with Brian. 'Kingdom of Heaven' is fantastic...as is Russell Crowe. But you ARE right that, while he's amazing in 'Gladiator,' his best performance IS in 'L.A. Confidential.'

Gianni said...

I'm not saying she isn't a talented actress (and I'm referring to her role in Elizabeth as her 'big one'), just that she hasn't had the same critical and commercial success since. Lord of the Rings and Benjamin Button had her in smaller roles behind other performers, and Babel was something of a commercial flop in the States, though it did quite well overseas. She's an amazing performer, and I'll see her in anything, but her big superstar moment may have passed.

brian said...

'Aviator' is a must watch and her Oscar is well deserved.