Marking an inauspicious start, the 63rd Cannes Film Festival opened yesterday with Ridley Scott's Robin Hood. The British director's fifth film with Russell Crowe, it's an attempt to recapture their mojo from Gladiator, their first outing a decade ago. But while that revived the swords-and-sandals epic, it's hard to foresee Robin Hood precipitating a host of imitators. Not least because Crowe's ho-hum take on the Nottingham outlaw never comes close to matching the blood-and-thunder of his gladiator. Playing Robin with all the mumbling machismo he can muster, there are times when watching him is as fun as a visit from the tax inspector.
But what really disappoints are the villains. Mark Strong's Godfrey, a treacherous confidante of Prince John modelled on Sir Guy of Gisburne, is watchable. But Matthew Macfadyen's Sheriff of Nottingham barely gets a decent line.
While it may signal Scott's intent to move away from the pantomime aspects of 1991's Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, the earnest tone means there are times you find yourself wishing Alan Rickman's moustache-twirling Sheriff would pop his head up and cancel Christmas. Even Mark Addy's Friar Tuck looks starved of fun.
Scott packages his elements well, going for gritty realism in the battle scenes (arrows through the neck, etc). But his take on this myth is as chilly as a northerly wind. Crowe is more convincing a warrior than Kevin Costner, but then so was Jason Connery in the 1986 TV show Robin of Sherwood. Running to an excessive 140 minutes, fans won't be insulted but neither will they be entranced by a film that loses sight of its aims.