Dir: Kevin Reynolds, 1991
Before he became the Prince Of Thieves, Kevin Costner was the Prince Of Hollywood. With blockbuster hits like Field Of Dreams, Dances With Wolves and the highly revered The Untouchables, Costner was box office certainty.
So, when another retelling of the one of the most famous legends in history was given the green light, Costner was the obvious choice.
The plot is simple. If you don’t know the story of Robin Hood by now, then you must have been living under a rock your life.
But, for those who don’t know, Robin Hood was the son of a brutally murdered king who lives in Sherwood Forest with his band of Merry Men (which would be called a gang today). Hood and his men, rob from the rich and give it to the poor. After falling in love with noble woman, Maid Marian, Hood incurs the wrath of the Sheriff Of Nottingham.
That’s, basically, the entire legend in a nutshell.
Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves follows the tale rather closely, and it’s with that in mind that the film deserves praise. What usually happens, is that Hollywood comes along and rewrites our history for us (U571 and, to an extent, From Hell). Unfortunately, it’s everything else that makes the film look a bit shaky.
Costner was known as a very charismatic actor and likeable lead star. His starring role in Bull Durham, exhibited a likeable and charming presence that was needed to play Robin Hood.
However, Costner has an inability to alter his voice and his attempt at an English accent (let alone a Nottingham one) brings in bouts of giggles for the audience with the unintentional humour. He may have appeal, but not the character.
Although a co-production between the UK and the US, it’s clear that the Americans have exerted great power and the film suffers because of that influence.
All style and glamour instead of integrity, the film is more interested in appealing itself to US cinemagoers than the telling the legend. Many British actors could have played the outlaw and done a better job, but the US film industry is a dominant superpower and insisted that an American portray the lead. Out of a cast of five lead actors four are American.
Like Costner, Christian Slater cannot do an English accent and speaks American through the film. As a native of Nottinghamshire, the decision to cast American actors in the roles of the English craws in the throat.
But, despite the heavy American bias, the film is fairly enjoyable. Plenty of action fills the screen; much of it rather gruesome and graphic. Director Reynolds, seems to take glee in focussing on the violence, giving it a, kind of, sadistic edge. For all intents purposes, Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves is a comic book, with diabolical villains and a script that reads like a cartoon strip. But the sadism present in the violence takes away the playful nature that Reynolds was going for and brings a much darker feel than the legend would have us believe.
Films about Robin Hood tend to lean more towards being swashbuckling movies, with Hood a dashing handsome hero; a la Errol Flynn. Although it’s refreshing to see a different take on the myth, this incarnation of the legend doesn’t correspond with the conventional image Nottingham’s revered outlaw.
Praise must go to the excellent costumes, deliberately choosing not to use the stereotypical idea of Hood being dressed in green with a feather in his cap.
Without a doubt, the real star of the film is the late Alan Rickman. As the dastardly Sheriff, Rickman hams it up, fully understanding the needs of the role. Evil, yet witty, Rickman is given the best lines to chew on and spits out some memorable pearlers, such as “And cancel Christmas!”.
On its release in America, the ratings body classified the film with an uncut ‘PG-13′ rating. But in Britain, things were different. The British censors awarded the cinema version a ’12’ certificate after numerous cuts to the violence, sexual references, bad language and the attempted rape of Marian.
For the video version, however, the distributors, Warner Bros., requested a ‘PG’ which meant further cuts were applied. It was this heavily censored version that remained the standard for video and DVD issues. Television screenings were censored even further. It wasn’t until the Blu-Ray of the extended version that the UK, finally, were able to see it uncut. The shorter theatrical print has never been approved, or shown, uncut in Britain, even today.
Ultimately, Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves is an AC/DC movie; for every positive, there’s a negative. It’s good and bad in equal measure.
Worth a watch, but it’s no masterpiece.