Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)

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.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Now That’s What I Call Archaeology!

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade takes everything that made Raiders of the Lost Ark great to begin with and builds on top of that. Last Crusade is unquestionably my favourite of the series and the main reason for this being the role of Sean Connery as Indy’s father Henry Jones Sr, which I consider to be one of the greatest casting choices ever made. This casting was largely due to James Bond being one of the inspirations for Indiana Jones although oddly enough despite my love of Indiana Jones I’ve never been keen on the James Bond films. There’s something about father-son stories that I’ve always had a particular affection for and the relationship between Indy and his father is challenging to put into words how thematically in-depth it is. The search for the bond between father and son ends up becoming more important than the search for the grail

Their personalities differ from Henry being more of an academic and Indy being more of an adventurer (at the film’s beginning Indy is struggling to even find the time to grade his student’s papers), yet at heart, they are both giddy schoolboys. Their emotionally distant relationship is beautifully conveyed during their exchange on the airship in which Indy complains to his father about never being there for him. His father replies by asking him what does he want to talk about and Indy struggles to find a conversation point to dwell on. The tone of Henry’s response, “well what are you complaining about?!” sums it up beautifully. At the film’s climax when Henry finally calls his son Indiana rather than Junior, it gives me chills alongside his words of “Let it go” as legitimate advice I apply to many real-life situations (when has a James Bond movie had anything as remotely substantive as this?).

Their scenes together are so melancholic and full of complex emotions that further humanises the character of Indiana Jones. I really do think this may be the greatest pairing of two actors ever and when I contemplate on it. I also feel this is the best performance Harrison Ford ever gave in his career, never has he been able to convey such emotion on-screen (and impersonate and art-loving Scotsman). Ford is one of few actors who can make any normal line of dialogue into something memorable.

The Last Crusade is also a comedy classic in its own right from the North by Northwest type moments (“No ticket!”) to more slapstick-oriented gags. The Hitchcock influence even extends to borrowing a moment from The Lady Vanishes in which young Indy escapes from a train via a magician’s box. Likewise, the Forest Gump type moment in which Indy inadvertently confronts Hitler face to face is brilliant on so many levels. – It works the same way the clothes hanger scene from Raiders did.

The supporting cast of players in the Last Crusade are second to none. Indy, Henry, Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) and Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliot) are simply so much fun to watch together on screen, with the clumsy Marcus going on the adventure (whereas in Raiders he is only seen at the beginning and end of the film) also really gives Last Crusade a big boost. Even his line “The pen is mightier than the sword” always cracks me up with the manner in which he delivers it in an English gentlemanly way, or Indy Sr’s uttering of “Junior!”; music to my ears. Likewise, I’m more than happy to listen to the eloquent and well-spoken Julian Glover as Walter Donavon as himself and Harrison Ford deliver exposition and tell each other “bedtime stories” (and subsequently transform into Doc Brown just before his untimely demise). Ernest Vogel (Michael Byrne) on the other hand is a completely two-dimensional villain in the best way possible with his intimidating presence as one really evil, tall, uniformed Nazi with a powerful music cue to introduce him in any scene. He has also has one of the most comical deaths in any film ever in a bizarrely campy two-second shot on him falling towards the camera. – Even the actor playing the Grail Knight (Robert Eddison) is mesmerizing in his brief part.

If I was the make a list of my favourite action scenes in film, I swear my list would be dominated by scenes from the original Star Wars trilogy and its sister franchise. Sequences such as that on the circus train or in the belly the steel beast make such clever use of props and their surroundings. Last Crusade was one of the last blockbusters to have such extensive use of practical effects, you know, before CGI had to go and ruin everything. Two years later Terminator 2 was released and things would never be the same again. As for the film’s music, the score by John Williams is not only one of his best but one of his most moving, perfectly capturing the melancholic and deep thematic nature of the film. I regularly listen to the movie’s soundtrack in moments of personal reflection, it’s that powerful.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is one of those rare films which gives me everything I could ask for in a motion picture. Like the filmmakers specifically made it just for me, encapsulating everything I love about cinema. The final shot of the four characters riding off into the sunset brings to an end to a decade of filmmaking like no other.