Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves


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.

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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.

3 thoughts on “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

  1. Nicole

    Didn’t they re-dub Costner’s lines when his accent made the test audience cringe and laugh themselves silly?

    I know it’s not quality, and wrong in so many ways…but love it I do.

  2. Charles Apple

    Let me simply note a couple of points that I hope you will take into consideration in the future regarding Robin Hood in the movies.

    First, any movie must keep faith with the audience. I am a professor of communication and we call this narrative fidelity. In plain English, the movie must present a plausible depiction of reality or at least one that works for the flow and integrity of the story. Prince of Thieves fails this test. You have noted one big problem with Robin not knowing how far the Cliffs of Dover are from Nottingham. He must have taken a few too many hits to the head in the Holy Land. J Further, his camp is so well hidden that two entire armies can sneak up on him undetected?siege engines included. This is absurd. It would be like a Panzer Division sneaking up on an allied army position. Not possible and it insults the intelligence of the viewer.

    Second, the story should make some kind of argument about how Robin fits into the history of his times. Not so with Kevin Hood. He can barely stand still for those long, slow, pan shots so that the audience knows how handsome he is. Otherwise, he is filled with anguish and the need to run away. Consider his heroism when the Moor uses gun powder (fidelity again anyone?) to blow a hole in the castle wall of Nottingham Castle. Robin?s reaction is to save his men and then run away, that is, until the Moor gives a better speech that Kevin can and everyone is rallied to the cause.

    Finally, it is important for a hero to present a picture for admires to imitate or at least aspire to imitate. I have studied over 30 versions of the Hood legend many of which go back over a couple of centuries. In all of them, Robin is brave enough and humble enough to lose an encounter and laugh about it, all the while offering a fair fight to his opponent. Not so Kevin Hood. When he fights Little John, he cheats and hits John from behind, and kicks him when he is down. I hope no one shows this movie to children with any hope that they will take away anything that they might imitate.


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