By Benjamin Svetkey
April 16, 2010 at 04:00 AM EDT
  • Movie

STARRING Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett
WRITTEN BY Brian Helgeland
DIRECTED BY Ridley Scott

Errol Flynn played him as a swashbuckling swordsman in green tights. Sean Connery portrayed him as a middle-aged semiretiree in love with a nun. Kevin Costner turned the character into an action figure with an American accent. And now Russell Crowe presents his interpretation of the beloved archer from 13th-century English folklore: Robin Hood as a disgruntled earl so sick and tired of King John’s high taxes, he throws a Tea Party in Sherwood Forest. You betcha!

Okay, not quite — but close. ”England was bankrupt, so King John increased the taxes manyfold,” says director Ridley Scott, giving the historical context for his PG-13 reboot of the classic tale. ”Also, the crown had these ridiculous restrictions on hunting. You couldn’t touch a deer. You could barely kill a rabbit. They even told you what kind of wood you could gather to burn.” Enter Crowe’s Robin Longstride, fresh from the Crusades, who battles for fair treatment of the serfs and wins the heart of a pre-nunnery Lady Marion (Cate Blanchett). ”The guy’s gone all the way to Palestine and back,” says Crowe of his character. ”He’s experienced all these different cultures and picked up quite a lot of knowledge on his way. And now he goes back to England for the first time in 35 years to find out who he is and where he comes from, only he gets tangled up in these other things.”

Originally, when screenwriters Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris (the guys who created Sleeper Cell for Showtime) first banged out their spec script, Robin Hood wasn’t even the main character. Nottingham, as it was titled then, told the folktale from a point of view sympathetic to the sheriff. That novel idea touched off a bidding war in early 2007; Universal ultimately won, paying the writers a reported seven figures. Brian Grazer was brought on to produce, and Crowe and Scott fell into place shortly after (they were on the set of their fourth film together, Body of Lies, when they signed on for a fifth). Then, in the grand Hollywood tradition, the concept that had sold the script in the first place got tossed out in favor of a more Robin Hood-centric story. ”The script went through many, many different changes,” Grazer admits. ”But to me, really, it’s more about the visuals. It’s the Gladiator version of Robin Hood.”

Crowe, as always, threw himself into the part with gusto. The 46-year-old Oscar winner dropped the weight he’d packed on for Body of Lies, pored over books about English folklore, and learned to use a bow and arrow. ”You can read to the point where you think you have a fairly good understanding, but then you have to approach the physical,” he says. ”You have to be able to do the things that he did. And obviously, Robin Hood’s principal skill is with a bow and arrow.” After a while, the actor adds, ”I got to the point where I was shooting 200 arrows a day.”

Nearly 1,000 years since Robin Hood’s day, England is once again flirting with bankruptcy, but at least that’s been a boon to filmmakers wanting to shoot on location in Great Britain. ”Ten years ago, national parks wouldn’t allow you to tread on certain meadows because they wanted to protect the black butterfly or some other bug,” says Scott. ”But now these institutions really need the money, so they opened up everything.” Indeed, a few scenes in Robin Hood were shot within walking distance of Windsor Castle. But they still weren’t allowed to kill any deer or rabbits. Some things never change.

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • 140 minutes
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