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Robin Hood Review


"Can you not sing a happy tune?" growls a not-so-merry man in "Robin Hood," and one might direct the same question at Ridley Scott's grimly revisionist take on England's most famous outlaw. Impressively made and serious-minded to a fault, this physically imposing picture brings abundant political-historical dimensions to its epic canvas, yet often seems devoted to stifling whatever pleasure audiences may have derived from the popular legend. With a brawny Russell Crowe in the title role, pic looks to hit its B.O. target in most markets, though overall muted reactions may hold Universal back from a king's ransom Stateside.


While the film will earn immediate comparisons with 2004's gritty, unromantic "King Arthur," what Scott and scribe Brian Helgeland have attempted here is not too dissimilar from what Christopher Nolan and his collaborators pulled off with "Batman Begins": They've fashioned a fresh origin story for a well-known hero and excised all the material's potentially campy aspects in favor of a downbeat, detail-oriented realist approach.


To that end, there are tricky political allegiances and family ties to be sorted out; characters are as likely to be assaulted by speeches as by arrows; the French, though clearly perceived here as the enemy, are at least allowed to speak their native tongue; and every castle and forest must be painstakingly identified, to the point that "Robin Hood" comes to resemble a medieval "Bourne" movie as it darts hither and yon from Nottingham to the northern coast of France.


It's 1199 A.D., and Robin Longstride (Crowe, who produced with Scott and Brian Grazer) is an honorable Briton and skilled archer in the crusading army of King Richard (Danny Huston) -- who, in contrast to most versions of the story, appears at the beginning rather than the end. Fed up with their lot as soldiers, Robin and his men -- who include a slimmer-than-usual Little John (Kevin Durand), contributing a few moments of bawdy humor -- flee a battle with French soldiers shortly after Richard himself is killed in action.


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