Director: Otto Bathurst
Cast: Taron Egerton, Jamie Foxx, Ben Mendelsohn, Eve Hewson, Tim Minchin, Jamie Dornan
RunTime: 1 hr 57 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Violence)
Released By: Encore Films and Golden Village Pictures
Opening Day: 29 November 2018
Synopsis: Robin of Loxley (Taron Egerton) a war-hardened Crusader and his Moorish commander (Jamie Foxx) mount an audacious revolt against the corrupt English crown in a thrilling action-adventure packed with gritty battlefield exploits, mind-blowing fight choreography, and a timeless romance.
Ah, ‘Robin Hood’, a tale as old as time, which has inspired so many adaptations and interpretations – including the 1938 Errol Flynn classic, the 1973 Disney animation, the 1991 Kevin Costner romance, and the 2010 Russell Crowe war drama – that you wonder if you should even be bothered with this latest.
Well, yes and no – yes, if you’re not averse to the idea of Robin Hood as a late-12th century dark knight in a gritty medieval war epic; and no, if even within the bounds of artistic license, that description sounds just ludicrous to you. Indeed, how much you warm to director Otto Bathurst’s tale really depends on how prepared you are to set aside your preconceptions of the legendary English folk hero, an expectation which the movie itself acknowledges with an opening voiceover that urges you to “forget history, forget what you believe, forget what you know”.
As played by the Welsh actor Taron Egerton of the ‘Kingsman’ films, Robin of Loxley is a comfortable young Nottingham nobleman whose only concern, before he receives a draft notice from the Sheriff (Ben Mendelsohn) for the Crusades, is how much time he gets to spend with his love Marian (Eve Hewson). After fighting the infidels in Arabia, Robin returns home to find that the Sheriff has proclaimed him dead and seized his property. In turn, Marian is now living in the mines with the community’s de facto leader Will Scarlet (Jamie Dornan), where many of the poor in Nottingham have been forced to work.
Thankfully for Robin, he has been handpicked by a ferocious Saracen fighter Yahya (Jamie Foxx), whose son he had valiantly, though ultimately futilely, tried to save from execution before being sent home. Because Robin cannot seem to pronounce Yahya’s name right, they eventually settle for calling him John. But more significantly, both come to see in each other a chance to set things right – in other words, stopping the rich and powerful from oppressing the poor and powerless – and in the process, seek vengeance for the numerous injustices that had been done onto them.
So John becomes Robin’s mentor, building his strength, teaching him how to shoot faster and more accurately, and training his reflexes; although since Robin was chosen for having his heart in the right place, character-building isn’t at all part of the training. John also instructs Robin to lead a double life – by day to ingratiate himself with the Sheriff as Lord Robin to gather intel about the Sheriff’s inner circle, and by night to steal from the Sheriff’s coffers to give to the poor. Despite still being emotionally tied to Marian, John warns Robin against getting reacquainted with Marian, on account that it would only end up endangering her own life.
It isn’t before long that Robin graduates from stealthy night-time robberies to a brazen raid on the governmental treasury in broad daylight, and from that to sparking an uprising among the people to take up arms against the Sheriff’s heavily guarded convoy delivering riches seized from them for the war effort in the Middle East. There is a propulsive momentum that drives the film from start to finish, though it is to Bathurst’s credit that the proceedings never feel frenetic, even if they are urgent, gripping and often invigorating.
In part, Bathurst has to thank a surprisingly engaging script from relative newcomers Ben Chandler and David James Kelly, who manage to squeeze plenty of narrative reveals and character moments in between the breathlessly paced action. You’ll be kept intrigued as the story teases a larger conspiracy involving the Church of Rome (with F. Murray Abraham portraying one of its all-powerful cardinals pulling the Sheriff’s strings), sets Marian and Robin’s jovial good friend Friar Tuck (Tim Minchin) as two revolutionaries hatching their own plan against the Sheriff, and be transfixed by Will’s transformation from the Sheriff’s opposition vanguard to a political figure in his own right. Oh yes, there is plenty going on within the film’s two hours, and we dare say that there is hardly a dull moment to be found.
It is however true too that some of it will feel awfully familiar to Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight’, hence our earlier reference to it. Not only are there parallels in how Robin’s disguise becomes his pseudonym, or how his identity of privilege is really his alter-ego, there are also very specific plot points that seem lifted from the movie, most notably a Two-Face analogue which sets up a potential sequel at the close of the film. Notwithstanding the obvious similarities, there are interesting contemporary thematic undertones which have been deliberately emphasised, including that of the rich-versus-poor/ wealth redistribution, anti-(white)establishment, and perhaps most provocatively, the insidiously divisive power of Christianity. To be sure, ‘Robin Hood’ isn’t intended to make a political statement, even though it is undeniably politicised.
Yet those simply looking for an edge-of-your-seat action movie will surely not be disappointed. One of the very first major sequences is the battle between the Christians and the Muslims in Arabia, which is intense to say the very least, and sets the tone for the rest to follow. Each of the set-pieces is efficiently choreographed and effectively staged for maximum thrill, and the standout ones include a fiery horseback chase through a mine and the parapets that run above it, as well as the climactic all-out street war between the people and the Sheriff’s heavily-armed guards. It helps that Egerton mostly performs all his own stunts, which shows in how the shots for each action scene are filmed and edited with relative clarity.
Speaking of Egerton, he makes a competent, if not particularly outstanding, impression as the titular hero. He brings both swagger and charm to the role, and holds his own against Mendelsohn’s deliciously evil turn as the Sheriff. Foxx is overall underused, and we’d have liked more time between him and Egerton to banter and bond, but there is a raw energy he brings that lights up the scenes he’s in. The rest of the supporting cast are equally stellar – including an appropriately steely Hewson as Marian, a droll Minchin as Tuck, and a sinister Ian Peck as the Arch Deacon of the church. Bathurst has filled many of the bit roles with solid English actors, and the ensemble is undeniably impressive.
It should be manifestly clear by now that ‘Robin Hood’ plays loose, fast and casual with historical or even cultural accuracy, which also explains why the costumes look generally anachronistic. If you’re not prepared to accept such revisionism, then very surely this version is not for you; otherwise, those in the mood for a balls-to-the-wall action movie will be delighted, even thrilled, by this folk hero reinterpreted as a modern shadow warrior. As long as you’re willing to go along with it, you’ll find yourself rewarded with an entertaining, engaging and exciting tale of vigilantism, politics/ religion, war, romance and brotherhood.
(Action, politics and romance rolled into one thoroughly engaging, though somewhat familiar, Dark Knight tale that plays it loose, fast and casual with the 'Robin Hood' legend)
Review by Gabriel Chong