Cannes Festival: A "very Gladiator" Robin Hood

May 13, 2010

While at the press screening of ROBIN HOOD, the opening film of the 2010 Cannes International Film Festival, I felt I was part of a gigantic marketing machine. This machine was already in motion more than a month ago when ROBIN HOOD star Russell Crowe made the publicity circuit rounds, including a stint on Oprah. His pronouncements rang like well-orchestrated, often-repeated talking points worthy of a presidential candidate.

To differentiate Ridley Scott's and Russell Crowe's ROBIN HOOD from its predecessors, it had to be made different. So we get Crowe's same Caesar-style haircut from his huge hit, "Gladiator." He dumped the tights from the other Robin Hoods in favor of a more historically accurate costume. He lost weight, and Robin Hood was, well, "very Gladiator."

Indeed, much is at stake. ROBIN HOOD cost over $160 million, and will cost much more to promote. It opens first here at Cannes, and immediately thereafter in Europe, America and the globe. The marketing engine must be precise -- despite its 2 hour and 19 minute length, this movie PRODUCT must capture the imagination of the world, almost simultaneously, on cue.

Truthfully, what is this ROBIN HOOD? Loud, conventional and kind of boring. Ridley Scott's ROBIN HOOD ends where most other Robin Hood films begin. Robin becomes an outlaw from a price put on his head by the evil, immoral and scheming Prince John of England. John gets anointed "king" when Robin, under mortal danger, brings the English crown back to London after Richard the Lionhearted dies on his way back to England from his last crusade.

We get "filled in" on the background with a bit of pop psychology. The father who Robin thinks left him at 6 years-old was actually a sort of stonemason slash visionary freedom-fighter who died for his principles, so it makes sense that these freedom genes transfer from father to son. This nobility of spirit also extends to Robin's first encounter with Lady Marian, played admirably by Cate Blanchett. A modern woman not afraid to speak her mind, stab a would-be-rapist in the neck or take up the sword for her father's honor. There's a lot of verbal synergy between Crowe and Cate, but their love develops slowly and remains chaste -- at least in the cuts left on the screen.

It really doesn't make that much sense, but I doubt that anyone will care -- because the battle scenes, with their overly manipulative orchestral music that pushes you viscerally into the back of your seat, should take care of the missing -- or misconceived -- narrative gaps. There's a wonderful performance in ROBIN HOOD by Max von Sydow as the 84-year-old Sir Walter Loxley. It's not that von Sydow has any better lines but that he understands timing and presence -- two things that a real actor rather than a celebrity should know something about.

Though a very "earnest" ROBIN HOOD, no one seems to have much fun. Even Robin's "merry men" are "happy" only when drunk and dancing. It's one thing for us to drink and dance, but it's another thing to watch someone else doing it. ROBIN HOOD, the movie, feels like the latter: watching something cleverly constructed at great expense to grab our dollars and eyeballs, but after you wake up from this drunken dream, you just feel your wallet a bit lighter and a hangover.

This is Milos Stehlik of Facets Multi-Media for WBEZ's Worldview from the 2010 Cannes Festival in Cannes, France.