I remember Russell Crowe in The Insider, a movie in which he successfully represented a three-dimensional human being – a vulnerable central character in a wonderful male melodrama. He also rose to the challenge in Master and Commander. American Gangster was worth watching for Denzel (and Chiwetel Ejiofor) rather than Mr. Crowe and I thought Gladiator vastly overpraised apart from Joaquin Phoenix – although I’m probably in a minority on that. Crowe needs a decent script and a director who knows how to construct a strong narrative. I’m not sure that Ridley Scott can do that consistently and I’m equally unsure as to whether Scott and Crowe together is really the perfect marriage they seem to think it is.
I found this film to be flabby and confused, though the production design and the lesser characters kept my attention throughout. At its centre was a much more interesting film trying to get out – the one with Max von Sydow and Cate Blanchett, who with a little more time allocation (in what is a long film) might have humanised Crowe. This plot strand rehearsed ideas from Sommersby – the man who turns up after years away from war and assumes a dead man’s identity – before occupying the narrative space of Robin and Marian, Dick Lester’s lovely film about an ageing outlaw and his lady. This would have been much more fun than the weird re-writing of Saving Private Ryan offered here.
I hope someone can explain to me why we need this juddering camerawork with the missing frames in order to represent action. There are several fight sequences in the film and none were particularly interesting as fights – my interest was in the ideological import of portraying the baddies as truly evil in their prosecution of the peasantry. I remember some critics praising Ridley Scott as a true heir to Kurosawa after the battle scenes in Gladiator. I don’t think so. Kurosawa and Peckinpah are still the masters for camerawork and editing of large-scale action scenes.
There is no reason why an historical adventure film should be historically accurate or particularly realist – ‘Robin Hood’ is not, after all, an historical figure. But any film electing for ‘Hollywood realism’ does need to be plausible. The plot was riddled with holes in this film. I have no idea where the battle on the beach took place but it seemed physically impossible to get there. Surely the whole point about warfare in England in the 12th Century is that it took a long time to get your army from one part of the country to another – and in that time all kinds of other things could happen.
Of course, this film isn’t for me – although I’m not sure why I can’t be part of a mainstream audience. I watched the film in a sell-out crowd for one of three early evening shows at the swanky new multiplex in London’s Westfield Shopping Centre. It was a mixed audience. A man a couple of seats away from me brought a tiny baby which he tried to lull to sleep on his shoulder. What are Vue cinemas doing letting him in? Most cinemas have separate parent and baby screenings. The film appears to have cleaned up on its first weekend, but I have heard rumblings that the core audience is not impressed – I wonder if we will see a big fall in Week 2?