Review: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
Robin of Locksley (Kevin Costner) escapes imprisonment and torture along with his Moor companion Azeem (Morgan Freeman). He heads home to England only to discover that his father Lord Locksley (Brian Blessed) has been killed and his family’s castle completely destroyed. Whilst Robin had been away on the Crusades with King Richard the Lionheart (who turns up at the end to be played by an unnamed Scotsman), the evil Sheriff of Nottingham has taken over as the tyrannical ruler. Robin eventually hooks up with the Merry Men of Sherwood forest, including the pig-headed but well-meaning Little John (Nick Brimble), and sour young Will Scarlett (Christian Slater), the latter of whom seems to harbour a personal grudge against Robin. Robin also tracks down his former love, Maid Marian (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), whom the scheming Sheriff has his own designs on. Needless to say, Robin and The Sheriff are headed for a showdown, though with The Sheriff backed by a one-eyed witch (Geraldine McEwan), he won’t be easy to defeat. Michael Wincott plays Guy of Gisbourne, The Sheriff’s brutal cousin, whilst Michael McShane plays the frequently drunk, rather unscrupulous Friar Tuck, whose allegiances seem awfully flexible.
This 1991 hit from director Kevin Reynolds (“Rapa Nui”, “Waterworld”, “The Count of Monte Cristo”) doesn’t look great in 2016, but that’s mainly because it was never a great film to begin with. It’s far too long (no matter which cut you watch), the witch character played by Geraldine McEwan is incongruous and silly, and Christian Slater’s Will Scarlett is a pouty little shitbag who takes up precious screen time. The brooding 90s take on the character just doesn’t work. Meanwhile, the best I can say for Kevin Costner is that I wouldn’t call his performance laughable, just borderline OK. Similarly, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio is just ‘meh’ as Maid Marian. In fact, ‘meh’ pretty much sums up her entire career, doesn’t it? But at least Costner and Mastrantonio I could put up with, even if I think Kevin Kline would’ve been better in the lead. That’s pretty much it for negatives, though, as the film is otherwise reasonably enjoyable stuff.
The music score by the late Michael Kamen (“The Dead Zone”, “Highlander”, “The Three Musketeers”) is especially memorable, and far more persuasive than the non-accent Costner fails to adopt in the title role (And honestly, I don’t really care about the accent that much, it’s just an easy joke to make). I know everyone got heartily sick of it at the time, but in 2016 I’m happy to claim that I’m a fan of Bryan Adams’ love ballad ‘Everything I Do (I Do it For You)’. It’s a great song, so you can all go suck it, OK?
The film also has a strong supporting cast, right down to Brian Blessed, who is so bloody marvellous in two minutes you wish he were in the film even more. Picking up the ham duties once Blessed is gone, is the late Alan Rickman. I can’t believe I’m even typing ‘late’, but there you go. He’s gone, and he will be missed. Rickman’s Sheriff of Nottingham isn’t in the same stratosphere as ‘subtlety’, but unlike the hokey McEwan, he’s got a droll sense of humour about him. If you loved Sir Peter Ustinov’s thumb-sucking Prince John in Disney’s animated “Robin Hood”, you’ll love Rickman’s interpretation of the Sheriff here. ‘I’m gonna cut your heart out with a SPOON!’ may be my favourite line he delivers here. When questioned his choice of cutting implement, he replies in annoyed fashion: ‘Because it’s dull, you twit. It’ll hurt more!’. He gets all the film’s best lines, and yes he also gets one of the two duds in the film: ‘And call off Christmas!’ is a stupid, anachronistic, ‘cute’ line that equals Marian’s eye-rolling ‘I’ll do it for YOU!’ line later on. Even without it being underscored by the Bryan Adams theme, that line is enough to make you gag. Honestly, Rickman and Bryan Adams truly are this film’s lasting legacy. They hold up better than anything else in the film.
It’s a shame he’s playing a ‘noble savage’ cliché, because even though Morgan Freeman had already won an Academy Award for “Driving Miss Daisy”, I’d wager that his role in this gave him more mainstream exposure. He’s good in the role, such as it is, and indeed any good that comes from his participation here is entirely due to his talent, not the role itself. Even better is Michael Wincott, whose Guy of Gisbourne is the straight up mean, rotten villainous henchman to Rickman’s lip-smacking Sheriff. Wincott really is a hateful, nasty piece of shit in this movie, and steals almost his every scene (He shares a couple with Rickman, so you know how that goes). He’s bloody terrific, and would later make for an excellent Rochefort in “The Three Musketeers”, too. Also worth a mention is American-born comedic actor Michael McShane (a frequent visitor to the UK, I believe), who is instantly hilarious as a drunken, givenofucks Friar Tuck. Seemingly playing the character as Irish, his accent is pretty solid actually, and he’s terrific comic relief.
As I said earlier, Christian Slater’s Will Scarlett is a mopey, brooding 90s take on the character and he’s just a miserable little shit who spends too much time whining without actually bloody doing something about it. And when he finally does get a chance to do something about it, he kinda pussies out of it. When you find out the motive for his bratty behaviour, you’ll roll your eyes. Seriously, go write in your little diary, you moody little shit. Nick Brimble, meanwhile, isn’t terribly memorable as Little John, but Soo Drouet is quite fun as his rather gutsy wife.
Scripted by Pen Densham and John Watson (the producers of “Backdraft” and “Blown Away”), the basic story holds up pretty well. Some of the new wrinkles work better than others, but I kinda liked the new spin this film put on the Merry Men, with Robin being discovered by the already formed Merry Men, who on their own have been stealing from the rich. That’s one way to do a revisionist take without ruining the essence of something. I also liked the idea of Robin being a disillusioned nobleman, it’s far more interesting than what Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe would later do to the character. I’m not so sure we really needed the Sheriff getting help from The Celts, and I always think it’s a shame when one of the main characters of the legend gets left out altogether, here it’s Prince John (who is usually depicted as the one ruling in King Richard’s absence). But for the most part, this is Robin Hood the way you know and hopefully like it. It amazes me that, although the film is clearly too much movie, it doesn’t suffer for pace. The film is too long, but runs along quickly enough that you don’t notice it until it’s nearly over. Meanwhile, cinematographer Douglas Milsome (“Full Metal Jacket”, “Nowhere to Run”) and the camera operators have the easiest job in the world, merely pointing and shooting that lovely scenery. It’s a very attractive film. I don’t know whose idea it was, but that arrow POV shot is still an undeniably great movie moment.
Hardly a classic, and I’d rather watch the genuinely affecting “Robin and Marian”, but this is still solid enough entertainment, so long as you can put up with the length of the damn thing. Nowhere near as bad as its current reputation would suggest, and certainly preferable to Ridley Scott’s more recent crack at the legend.