Oh England, My Lionheart
***This Review Contains Spoilers***
No Robin Hood movie can dream of even coming close to the perfection that is The Adventures Of Robin Hood from 1938, but Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves ranks as my 2nd favourite movie about the famed English outlaw. If the 1938 Robin Hood is one extreme of a bright, colourful, tight-wearing, saccharine induced fantasy and the Ridley Scott Robin Hood from 2010 is the opposite extreme of an unnecessarily dark, gritty and overly mature version of the tale, then Prince Of Thieves is the middle ground.
Is the All-American Kevin Costner miscast as Robin Hood? Yes. But do I care? No, not really. Costner’s enthusiasm does come through in his performance and shows he has what it takes to be an action hero. Most people don’t think of Costner as much of a screen presence, but to me, he is (besides, realism is beside the point with a movie like this). Prince Of Thieves opens unexpectedly in Jerusalem showing that this is a Robin Hood movie which does things a bit different, largely with the character of Azeem Edin Bashir Al Bakir (Morgan Freeman), an Arabic man in medieval England. Azeem represents a positive representation of an Arab and the world from which he hails. He holds more enlightened views on women and in one of the movie’s pivotal scenes he hands Robin a rudimentary telescope (very similar to a paralleling scene in Dances with Wolves) which isn’t recorded to have been invented until the 17th century. However, the notion that an individual or individuals from the Arab world might have known about such technology isn’t a too “out there” idea if the claims of the Middle East being a far more advanced society than Europe during the middle ages are to be believed (it’s unlikely we’ll see a character like Azeem in the post-9/11 world in which the Middle East is no longer portrayed in media as an exotic fantasy land rather than a haven for terrorists). Costner and Morgan Freeman do make for a fun duo and who wouldn’t want to have Morgan Freeman always by your side giving you winsomely knowledge – what other actor embodies dignity more than Freeman? There is a big gaping plot hole when Azeem fulfils his duty to Robin by saving his life right after they land on the English shore yet for whatever reason this is not acknowledged. But do I care? No, not really.
However, if there is one actor who steals the show in Prince Of Thieves it has to be Alan Rickman as the twitchy, scenery-chewing, devil-worshipping madman that is the Sherriff of Nottingham. His performance is full of little things which feel like they were improvised and his many outbursts are music to my ears. Is it just me or do classically trained actors often make the most memorable villains? Sean Connery’s appearance, on the other hand, is one of the better uses of a celebrity cameo in a film. Just like how the characters are surprised to see Richard the Lionheart return to England, we as the audience are surprised to see Sean Connery (he is perfect in these kinds of roles).
Prince Of Thieves plays host to a number of anachronisms including the aforementioned telescope, the inclusion of the Beaux Tapestry in the opening credits to the presence of Celts in 12th century Scotland and Kevin Costner’s mullet. However, the most prevalent anachronism is the imparting of contemporary values into England circa 1194. The film does contain an undercurrent of feminism with the estate Robin visits shortly after his return to England, being run by women and guarded by a female in armour which is revealed to be none other than the Lady Marian (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) in a portrayal of the character as a woman with a sense of self who is subservient to anyone. Concurrently, Azeem affectionately refers to Robin as “Christian” throughout the course of the film, despite the story being during the era of the crusades and despite the prejudice Azzem encounters on his journey with Robin in England (“In your country, am I not the infidel?”). Prince Of Thieves is a Robin Hood telling which takes a rather dim view of The Crusades with both Robin and Azeem making various comments throughout the film of their disapproval of the event. Some may look at Prince Of Thieves as a more politically correct Robin Hood, but I don’t feel as if the film is attempting to shove any messaging down my throat unlike that or more contemporary films, nor does it interfere with the storytelling.
Prince Of Thieves is good old-fashioned, swashbuckling adventure filmmaking. The action on display has a sense of weight and physicality with the impressive large-scale action sequences with even that out-there moment with Robin and Azeem being fired over a wall with a catapult still feeling believable, and not a computer-generated effect in sight – all practical glory. Likewise, how can that score by Michael Kamen not evoke the adventurer in you (the music is so good that it appears Disney has been using it on their own logo). I may also be the one remaining person in the world who isn’t sick to death of Bryan Adams’ (Everything I Do) I Do It For You – I still jam to it now and then. Ah the days when the pop song tie-in was as big, if not bigger than the movie itself. Prince Of Thieves even does the English landscape justice; regardless of the drab winter weather, there is still a beauty to it. Prince Of Thieves features some breathtaking money shots, such as that of Robin firing an arrow with an explosion behind him filmed at 300 frames per second; or perhaps my favourite shot in the film, the romantic elevator with the sun in the background splitting the trees. Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves is a film with its faults but I’m so engaged with the world and its aesthetic that I can look past them, a world in which everything feels used and lived in, one beaming with personality.