Robin Hood

Here's the thing about the new Robin Hood film: it's good. Ridley Scott understands cinematography. It certainly is a beautiful film to look at.

Historically it's all over the map. I'm not as up on my British history as my father would like me to be but I have a hard time believing Robin Hood was instrumental in the crusades, fighting a French invasion, and organizing a charter of barons to challenge the authority of the king. In truth it doesn't need to be strictly historically accurate, though, because Robin Hood is not actually a real person. He may have been based on a real person at one time, long ago, but has since been amalgamated by the vagaries of folklore into a legend without grounding. He's the perfect fictional hero in that way. Potentially sprung from history but without the nagging proof that would cement him in one version or another. Therefore any version of Robin Hood could be the right one. Even this one. In which he is a slightly puffy, vaguely surly, sort of Irish-sounding gladiator of the Middle Ages.

The most difficult suspension of disbelief in this film is Russell Crowe's age. Let's be honest. He's in his mid-forties in an origin story about a man who lived during the Middle Ages when life expectancy ran, on average, from mid-thirties to forties. But once you get past that - and just accept the fact that in all probability Robin Hood was not, in fact, particularly merry and had plenty of reason to be surly - it's a gorgeous and quite fascinating film. The best part of the film is the cinematography and the score which swells and rolls just like the hills the camera loves so dearly. But all the supporting players in this very serious version of the legend are unbelievably great. Danny Huston, Scott Grimes, Max Von Sydow, William Hurt, Mark Addy, and Kevin Durand are each compelling reasons to see the film. (As is Cate Blanchett. But as she's stunning in everything it becomes like reviewing Meryl Streep - a lesson in repetition and there are, after all, only so many glowing adjectives in the world.) Danny Huston, in particular, is stupefyingly memorable in his brief appearance as King Richard. He's a great actor and a real favorite of mine (for reasons that involve both talent and sibling association) but he's unforgettable here mostly because his King Richard is lionhearted by name only. He's a swaggering, bloated, hairy jerk really. It's fabulous! I love an unexpected take on a traditionally heroic one-note character.

If Gladiator was a hit series and had spawned spin-offs in the vein of CSI or Law & Order, this Robin Hood would definitely be Gladiator: Nottingham. The comparisons are hard to avoid. The similarities, from star to story, are difficult to ignore. But it's not a bad thing because who didn't like Gladiator? And Ridley Scott truly knows how to make visual poetry. I do wish the fights hadn't been so manically Bourne-like and the length, as always, could be trimmed of excess fat but I genuinely liked it.

Still, my list of favorite Robin Hoods hasn't changed with the addition of Russell Crowe to the mix. The standings still hold as follows...

1. Errol Flynn
If he were a pirate, he'd be the swashbuckling-est. He rocked the tights and he was merry to boot, as were every single one of his men.

2. Disney's Robin Hood
He was such a fox! And so casual-cool about the outlawing thing.

3. Captain Jean-Luc Picard
Jean-Luc out of uniform and into tights - fencing, riding, dashing to the rescue. I remain convinced that Q was created by a legion of women solely for the purpose of getting Patrick Stewart out of Starfleet regulation clothing and into their weird fantasy playlands.

I think Russell Crowe has more in common with Worf, actually. "Captain, I protest. I am not a merry man!"