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MMYIF: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

My Misspent Youth In Films...

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
Directed by: Kevin Reynolds
Starring: Kevin Costner, Morgan Freeman, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio
Released: June 14, 1991

When Robin and his Moorish companion come to England and the tyranny of the Sheriff of Nottingham, he decides to fight back as an outlaw.

What I Thought Then

I thought it was one of the best interpretations of Robin Hood that I'd ever seen. Way better than that one with the animals. And much more serious.

What I Think Now

This is Kevin Costner at the peak of his career. Field of Dreams and The Untouchables were behind him. The apocalyptic miscalculations of Waterworld and The Postman were still in the future. He'd just come off directing and starring in the awards darling Dances with Wolves, and here he was teaming up with his old friend/director Kevin Reynolds to make a reinterpretation of Robin Hood that focused on a "poor little rich kid discovers social justice" angle instead of just being a traditional carefree adventurer. Which is certainly a take. It's far from the most embarrassing take on the material, but it's still something. Robin of Locksley returns from the Crusades a broken man with Moorish sidekick Azeem in tow (Morgan Freeman, and how quaint to see movies from a time when Muslims were considered exotic curiosities as opposed to terrorist threats) only to find his father murdered and Nottinghamshire terrorized by an oppressive sheriff (Alan Rickman, who is by far the most watchable thing in this whole picture). He meets up with some version of his merry men, including Friar Tuck, Will Scarlet and Little John, and courts the lovely Maid Marian. Hijinks (and explosions) ensue!

And you know what? I still like it. I liked it more than I expected to, honestly. It was a box office success for a reason--the movie's a lot of fun. The action beats play pretty well. The cinematography is a bit over-dramatic--there's a lot of fish-eye lens business going on--but it does manage to get the drama across. The production design is fantastic. It's got a lot going for it. The script is... meh. It works narratively, but everyone speaks in platitudes and grand declarations. This makes the conversations come across as unnatural, but on the other hand it makes for a film that's chock-full of quotable lines. I had a girlfriend in high school who loved to recite the "Why a spoon, cousin?" / "Because it's dull, you twit, it will hurt more" exchange. I find myself occasionally quoting the witch Mortianna who, after Nottingham throws a temper tantrum, dryly responds "Something vexes thee?"

Casting is hit-or-miss. Costner's very much out of his depth. He's a good actor with no shortage of on-screen charm, but there's so much latent Americana woven into his DNA that he feels supremely out of place in Merry-Olde-England. I mean, there's a reason he keeps making movies about baseball. He and Reynolds never agreed on what to do with his accent, and in the final product it's fairly inconsistent but mostly just distractingly wrong--although having seen him in Thirteen Days, attempting an accent might actually have made matters worse. Morgan Freeman, similarly, is a compelling presence, but you'd never mistake him for a Turk. Christian Slater's Will Scarlet is also a bit distracting, especially since he's sporting 90s hair-drapes. The rest of the cast is solid, though. Rickman's a treat, as is Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Maid Marian. Michael Wincott chews scenery as a lieutenant bad guy. Friar Tuck and Little John are wonderful, and just over-the-top enough. And of course that cameo from Sean Connery is a crowd-pleaser (speaking of misplaced accents).

The special effects are mostly practical and look pretty good, but there's an effects shot from the point of view of an arrow that made it's way into most of the trailers and it's kinda laughable by modern standards. Setting aside the miscast leads, the thing that's aged the worst is the finale, in which Nottingham's protracted attempt at raping Marian is half played for laughs. So that's a little cringey. The second cringiest part is the Bryan Adams music video that plays over the credits. Not that it's a bad song or anything, but it sets a bar for cheesy-movie-tie-in-songs that would not be matched until My Heart Will Go On.

Recommendation?

If you can get past the bizarre casting choices, it's a fun ride. And, for the curious, the DVD I have of this film is an "extended cut" that includes extra Satanism and a secret parent sub-plot. Good times!

Tune in next week to see the rock-a-who?...

In My Misspent Youth In Films, Kurt is going through the movies he grew up on. Read the explainer or see more posts.

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