Ridley Scott's re-imagining of the classic Robin Hood tale, starring Russell Crowe as the toxophilite hero (Adam learned a new word!), opened in theaters this weekend to fairly robust box-office returns and a middling critical response.
I quite enjoyed the film; it contains that satisfying mix of action, drama, comedy, and romance that makes up the best of summer blockbusters, with an alluring subtext positing Robin Hood as an everyman. The acting is top-notch (how can it not be with Cate Blanchett on board?), the scenery is exquisite, and Ridley Scott fashions a climactic battle sequence destined for the history books.
Well, maybe if I were writing the history books. The majority of the critical landscape was unenthused. The film sits at a 56 on Metacritic, with 19 of the nation's top contributors feeling underwhelmed. The broader consensus is even bleaker, with an overall 45% approval rating, and a rotten green tomato splat, on Ye Ole Rotten Tomatoes.
So what gives? Is the movie a fresh reinterpretation or a rotten misfire? I say the former.
You can read my full review at THE DAGGER!
But the critical base says the latter. And I cry foul.
I strongly believe that Robin Hood has been judged unfairly and dishonestly by a large mass of critical voices. My suspicion is that the liberal media mindset (not to sound like a Fox News analyst) shunned Robin Hood for its portrayal and endorsement of libertarian values: those of freedom, equality, and democracy.
Ridley Scott's Robin Hood (the man) begins as a swordsman following orders from the state. When he travels to Nottingham, he sees the devastation brought about by self-interested rulers with far too much power, and he becomes a champion of the people and their rights. Before he leads the charge into a final battle with the French, Robin Hood and other proponents of liberty strike a deal with the king to ensure that corruption by the crown would no longer infringe upon citizens' rights. (Historically, this scene mirrors the signing of the Magna Carta, with extra emphasis on populist support that better reflects America's Bill of Rights.)
So why would this interpretation threaten a liberal mindset? First and foremost, it annihilates the classic understanding of Robin Hood's cause. "To take from the rich and give to the poor" seems like an action rooted in liberalism, in socialism--that is, the redistribution of wealth. But here, Robin Hood is not a socialist by any means; he is distrustful of government and supports placing the wealth not where it is needed, per se, but where it naturally belongs. His views are democratic, populist, and classically American--not progressive or liberal as one might expect.
Here is the root of the critical disapproval: Robin Hood is much too American. Our current sociopolitical climate includes a certain resentment among liberals of the American ideal, and Robin Hood sticks too closely to that ideal.
The resentment, of course, is understandable after nearly a decade of supposedly traditional philosophies leading our country into a disastrous military conflict and, arguably, ravaging the nation's economy, among a slew of other difficulties. But the resentment is also misplaced, for the problems our country faces are far more a result of government intervention than an allegiance to the tenets of liberty.
The liberal solution to our nation's problems (created by the government) is more government or better government. Robin Hood fights to take power away from the government and put more power into the hands of the people. His beliefs reflect a more conservative mindset, threatening the foundation of the liberal cause.
Robin Hood, as depicted in the film, is an adversary to the current liberal agenda, and so liberal voices in the media have been quick to express disapproval. They see Robin Hood rallying the citizens of England against absolutism, and they see a Tea Party convention picketing Obama's progressive politics.
"At times, it feels like a political attack ad paid for by the tea party movement, circa 1199," writes Michael O'Sullivan of the Washington Post. For O'Sullivan, missing is "the socialist stuff that we normally associate with the man in tights in this new, politicized version." Instead of Robin Hood as a socialist, Robin Hood depicts "the story of the radicalization of some guy named Longstride."
Cloudy judgment? I'd say so.
Karina Longworth of the Village Voice agrees, and then some. "Ridley Scott's Robin Hood plays like a rousing love letter to the Tea Party movement," she describes. And Robin Hood himself? "[A] self-serving rabble-rouser who'd play on the emotions of the struggling public to incite anarchy."
So it's Robin Hood, the Tea Party conservative, "whose ability to mobilize commoners with empty, anti-government rhetoric equating taxation with slavery is posited as a virtue." She concludes her disdainful, politically-motivated evaluation: "Conservatives will never again be able to complain that Hollywood ignores their interests." As for the film's more objective shortcomings, "[a]ll the more reason for Sarah Palin to love it." Yes, a cheap shot at Sarah Palin to boot.
"Rob the Rich? Give to the Poor? Oh, Puh-leeze!" reads the byline for A.O. Scott's review in the New York Times. His explanation is laced with sarcasm:
You may have heard that Robin Hood stole from the rich and gave to the poor, but that was just liberal media propaganda. This Robin is no socialist bandit practicing freelance wealth redistribution, but rather a manly libertarian rebel striking out against high taxes and a big government scheme to trample the ancient liberties of property owners and provincial nobles. Don’t tread on him!
Lest we forget the Tea Party angle... "So is “Robin Hood” one big medieval tea party? Kind of, though that description makes the movie sound both more fun and more provocative than it actually is."
Then some more tongue-in-cheek conservative discourse from Mr. Scott: "Robin and Marion engage in a bit of heavy-handed screwball antagonism before the imperatives of tax reform and heterosexuality unite them forever."
And then A.O. takes it a step further: "The anti-French animus of “Robin Hood” is amusingly over the top — the French monarch is first glimpsed slurping oysters — but also perhaps a little anachronistic, belonging less to 1200 than to 2003, the height of the Freedom Fries era."
Freedom fries?? Now there's a stretch to connect Robin Hood to radical conservatism!
Now don't get me wrong. I think interpretation with a partisan perspective is interesting, and even important in amassing a broad-range understanding of a particular work or message. But this is not responsible criticism! Personal beliefs should not factor in to the process of an honest critical evaluation.
As a piece of narrative filmmaking, Robin Hood is an expansive, even enthralling exercise, and an interesting retelling of the classic fabled hero. It's a shame that this was forgotten by so many in the media who, quite wrongfully, felt personally scorned.