A review of Ridley Scott's "Robin Hood." Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett have chemistry so potent it may just sear the celluloid.

Share story

Movie review 3 stars

Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe), an expert archer departing King Richard I’s army in France after the monarch’s death, is surprised but not displeased when a few fellow soldiers want to join him, wherever he’s going. “The more the merrier,” he says to the men, as the future Robin Hood well might.

Ridley Scott’s “Robin Hood” is a sort of prequel, an origin story that shows us how Robin Longstride became Robin Hood (or, in this movie’s perhaps accurate but unintentionally funny phrase, “Robin of the Hood”; you mentally add an apostrophe and picture him slinking around some urban street in a hoodie). It’s audacious casting: At 46, Crowe is the same age as Sean Connery was for “Robin and Marian,” the 1976 film about a gray-bearded, aging Robin. But it’s also what makes the movie work. “Robin Hood” turns out to be, despite impressive battle scenes and countless horses, an actor’s showcase.

Crowe, at his best (and his many collaborations with Scott have ranged from terrific to mediocre), is an actor of rare electricity. His trademark brooding menace leavened with just a bit of eye-twinkling wit feels exactly right for the outlaw of English legend; not quite as gleefully dashing as Errol Flynn, but his own simmering take on the role. And when he shares a screen with Cate Blanchett — which, remarkably, these two have never done before — the sparks not only fly, but you fear the celluloid might sear. As the widowed Lady Marian (Blanchett, too, is older than the customary screen Marians, and her story has been correspondingly tweaked), she’s low-voiced and burning with quiet fire. Watch the two of them in a conversation in which she mistakenly hears “good night” for “good knight”; it’s practically a movie in itself. Never mind the swashbuckling; just use this movie as a perfect example of that elusive thing called screen chemistry.

Other performances shine as well: Eileen Atkins’ regal, haunted Eleanor of Aquitaine; William Hurt’s sturdy-voiced Sir William Marshall; Mark Addy as a cheery, beekeeping Friar Tuck (the better to make honey mead); Max von Sydow’s fragile Sir Walter (Marian’s father-in-law); and most of all Mark Strong as Robin Hood’s nemesis, the scheming Sir Godfrey. Equipped with an alarming scar to the side of his mouth, Godfrey evilly flicks his tongue toward it as he tells Lady Marian a horrible truth, like a snake in chain mail.

These performances enliven a fairly cumbersome story set in England and France in the early 13th century, when most of the men of Nottingham were away with Richard’s army. Screenwriter Brian Helgeland (“L.A. Confidential”) takes some liberties with the legend, for the purposes of freshening things up, but he’s juggling a few too many characters and locations; the story at times droops. Nonetheless, Scott knows how to stage an exhilarating battle scene, with arrows flying through the air like flocks of swallows. And Crowe and Blanchett, whose love story makes up a frustratingly small part of the film, make unforgettable magic.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com