In my last review, 3:10 to Yuma, I lamented the casting of two non-Americans, Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, in the lead roles for a Western. I suppose, however, that would be our just desserts for movies like this, which retells an English legend with four Americans in the lead roles. The most visible British actor is stuck playing the villain, making this, I suppose, sort of an unofficial Star Wars film. To add insult to injury, the entire story is refashioned as a generic action movie, raining down clichés like flaming arrows.
One thing decidedly missing from this version of the Robin Hood tale is the character of Prince John. Apparently, the film makers felt that Yank audiences couldn’t handle the complexities of having two chief villains. This leaves Alan Rickman to drift alone without a well-defined character, just a series of snide one-liners. In the end, the Sheriff of Nottingham amounts to little more than Hans Gruber with a sword instead of a gun. Maybe they should have cast Bruce Willis as Robin Hood.
His ill-fated second-in-command, Guy of Gisborne (Michael Wincott) is no Alexander Godunov, however. Director Kevin Reynolds constantly shoots him with a wide-angle lens, distorting his features to remind us that, yes, he really is a bad guy. Beyond that, very little about him sticks in my memory.
Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio is saddled with the relatively thankless role of Maid Marion who, after briefly smacking around Robin of Loxley (Kevin Costner) to prove she’s no damsel in distress, spends the rest of the movie playing the damsel in distress.
Christian Slater, who still had a career back then, plays Will Scarlett, whose sole role in the film is to bear Standard Hollywood Grudge #25 against our hero, until it is resolved in the movie’s most laughably clichéd and overwrought scene.
It’s probably somehow expected that the most interesting character to come out of this mess has nothing to do with the original Robin Hood legend. Morgan Freeman’s Azeem, a Moor who follows Robin home from the Crusades after the escape from prison, is a modern and enlightened Muslim among a pack of “backward” Christians. It’s probably not that the character is well-written or particularly deep, but he’s played by Morgan Freeman, which has probably saved more than one writer from looking like a complete idiot.
Kevin Costner has taken a lot of abuse over his bad “English Accent” in this movie, but the truth is that he doesn’t even attempt an English accent. It’s also somewhat of a silly criticism because, in twelfth-century England, no one spoke anything we would recognize as English, much less with anything like a modern English accent. The truth is that his “accent” is no less inauthentic than that of the British actors, who often toss in some modern colloquialisms to boot. Little John (Nick Brimble) calls someone a “tosspot,” which wouldn’t enter the lexicon for another four hundred years, just like the f-word that Christian Slater uses later in the film. The Sheriff of Nottingham refers to his Celtic mercenaries as “hired thugs,” even though thug wouldn’t be an English word for another eight hundred years. To top it off, the sheriff refers to Nottingham as his “county” instead of his “shire.” Counties were still three hundred years in the future and where do you think the word “sheriff” comes from, you bloody sod?
Okay, enough of my linguistic obsessive compulsions, but this movie is bad enough to criticize on legitimate grounds. We don’t need to go making up reasons.