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Robin Hood

From crack archer to tax-evader: Robin's early years

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The film's marketing is a bit of a feint: This movie isn't about the beloved Robin Hood, that dashing, good-natured fellow in tights who stole from the rich to give to the poor. No, Ridley Scott's two-and-half-hour feature is a prequel, focusing on the archer Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe), and his journey home from the Crusades in 1199. 

There's a stop in France, where his boss, British King Richard the Lionhearted, is killed, and where Longstride and some cohorts (not yet a band of merry men) assume the chain-mail uniforms of dead knights. Thus, they return to England in relative style, and head north for Nottingham, where the honorable Longstride hopes to return a sword he borrowed.

In Nottingham, Longstride continues his ruse, pretending to be a chap named Loxley, even extending his charade to bunking down with Mrs. Loxley (Cate Blanchett). But the spatting between England and France continues, with royalty and palace power-brokers on both sides of the Channel itching for a face-off. Meanwhile, the British peasants are irked at paying taxes, and Longstride rounds them up to take their fight to London. (Contemporary tea-partiers may nod approvingly, but this isn't really the dominant ideology of the film.)

Robin Hood is a lavish production, bursting with location shooting, extravagant costumes and several noisy but bloodless battles. (Scott -- who never met a gigantic fireball he didn't like -- even works in a massive explosion, using only 12th-century pyrotechnics.) But the overly long movie lacks focus, shifting from film-strip history lesson and tepid romance to clanging battles and the elevation of the One Hero to Save Us All (in this case, the proto-Robin Hood). The film is not a complete rip-off, but I daresay most viewers would have liked to see more high-spirited robbery than geo-politics.

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