ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES—-like peasants the world over, I dutifully paid homage to tradition by scurrying through the forest to see this version loose its arrows in 1991. After The Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Kevin Costner’s go at Sherwood & Saxon’s pursed the year’s second biggest coin hoard—$390,494,000: proving once more that crime—justified crime anyway—pays handsomely. I’ve always liked Costner, never joined that tiresome snob parade that has been hell-bent on pummeling the guy like he carried the plague, so I noted his skipout on an English accent, accepted it and moved on through the lengthy (143 minutes) but actionful update, got laughs from the bad guys and a smile from the surprise cameo at the end and then forgot about it. Errol Flynn didn’t turn over in his grave at Robin’s revision.*
Alas, re-swashing its buckle a quarter-century down the pike shoulders more chore than lore, made bearable only by the vigorous scene-stealing of the two main heavies: Alan Rickman, deliriously wicked as the ‘Sheriff of Nottingham’, and Michael Wincott, cooking hot malice as ‘Guy of Gisborne’.
“That’s it then. Cancel the kitchen scraps for lepers and orphans, no more merciful beheadings, and call off Christmas.”
Costner’s lack of an accent (also true of and more irksome from Christian Slater’s ‘Wil Scarlett’) wouldn’t be much of an issue if the script had given him a better Robin to inhabit. There’s little of a Merry man in this olde outlaw beyond acceptable physicality in the fighting scenes—Kevin wields a bow with style—as his “join me for freedom” speeches lack vigor: there’s a glum solemnity to his shtick.
Not that there’s much to get roused over, either as written in the pat back & forth yakking or visualized in the gloomy settings and the closed-in direction from Kevin Reynolds, offering busyness both too much and not enough. Rushed into production, bedeviled by editing squabbles, the tone from the start is dark and glum; the action crueler and more vicious than this kind of adventure tale warrants; the 90s Girl Power feistiness of ‘Maid Marian’ (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio miscast, underwritten and misdirected) and the obvious p.c. addition of Morgan Freeman come off as sops to a New Age’y underlay for a movie that can’t decide where to put its hands, head or heart.
Rickman turned down his role twice until he was reassured he would have carte blanche to run the Sheriff’s nastiness to his own muse, and he’s delightful, though even as it tickles the characterization is at such odds with the others it helps show up the crucial missing spirit around him. Wincott’s Gisborne is an out ‘n out bastard, believably medieval. Freeman plays his demographic-pandering role straight and emerges with dignity intact.
Produced for $48,000,000, it was mostly filmed in England, with some castle scenes shot in the French gem of Carcassone. Audiences in Britain, aside from squirming under the Costner/Slater pronuciation moats, were astonished to see the script having Robin go from Dover to Nottingham via Hadrian’s Wall–“by nightfall“–a total distance of 400 miles. On foot, yet. They may have already questioned Freeman’s Moorish ‘Azeem’ using a refracting telescope– a good 400 years before they were invented. One could wait at least half that long before hearing another play of the megahit Bryan Adam’s song that the film produced. Oscar-nominated (losing to “Beauty And The Beast” from that movie),”Everything I Do, I Do It For You” sold 15,000,000 copies. Bring back the rack.
With Geraldine McEwan (told to out-crone all previous crones), Michael McShane, Brian Blessed, Nick Brimble, Jack Wild and gratefully enlivening the finale, a stride-on from that titan Sean Connery.
*Errol didn’t roll over because he was too busy chasing a matched pair of Hell’s hottest she-devils around the firepit. His 1938 incarnation, The Adventures Of Robin Hood, remains the gold standard. There were six silent versions, topped by Douglas Fairbanks’ 1922 Robin Hood. Since Flynn there have more than three dozen features, TV series and spinoffs. Among a green-bedecked crew that included Cornel Wilde, John Derek, Richard Todd, Richard Greene and Patrick Bergin the best post-Errol ‘Hoods’ were Sean Connery in the okay 1975 Robin And Marian and Russell Crowe in Robin Hood, from 2010. There are more in the offing. You can’t keep a good hero down, and there seems to be no short supply of corrupt rich swine deserving of an arrow.