Retro-Review: Robin Hood – Prince of Thieves (1991)

This movie is one of the most perfect examples of how casting can ruin a film. It has been at least 20 years since I saw it last and many of the film’s stronger elements remain clear in my mind, but so does the woeful miscasting of Kevin Costner. It’s a frustrating film, excellent in many respects but dragged down by one central flaw.

The film begins with Robin of Locksley (Kevin Costner) who has gone to the Holy Land on a crusade and been captured. He escapes with the help of Azeem (Morgan Freeman) and returns to England where the Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman stealing every single scene) is plotting to steal the throne of the kingdom from absent King Richard with the help of a witch Mortianna (Geraldine McEwan). Robin assembles his band of outlaw revolutionaries and the whole thing ends in a climactic battle and a duel between Robin and the Sheriff.

First of all, the film is really well shot for the most part, with only a few early-90’s excesses (extreme close-ups with a wide-angle lens, or rock-video backlight on the hero shrouded in mist, for example). The locations are excellent, as are the costumes and production design. The pace of the film is brisk and action-packed, never a dull moment in what is a serviceable script told with exciting imagery and tight editing, though it does tip so far into melodrama at times it almost becomes pantomime. Maybe I’m being kind, but as someone who lived before the Lord of the Rings made sword movies cool, I had to appreciate the crumbs I got. In my opinion the script is fine as far as these kinds of movies went at the time, but I am aware of its flaws.

Except for Kevin Costner and Christian Slater, the movie’s casting is very good. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio makes for a fiery, independent Maid Marian, Morgan Freeman turns in an excellent performance and Alan Rickman absolutely runs away with the film. How ironic is it that the Sheriff of Nottingham steals the movie from the titular Prince of Thieves? Makes you wonder who the subtitle is actually referring to.

There is no doubt that Costner is the biggest deficit in the movie, and with him carrying the whole thing it’s hard to see past him. It’s not just the fact that his fake accent, when he bothers to attempt it, is distractingly dreadful. His delivery is so uninspiring that I just can’t believe the band of Merry Men would follow him into harm’s way. Every time he opens his mouth to speak his lines the film falls flat. He is like a black hole at the center of an otherwise decent movie.

By far, though, the best part of the whole production is the score by Michael Kamen. I remember owning the CD back in the day and listening to it over and over. The hero’s theme is suitably rousing and the love theme is quite beautiful, although it has the unfortunate distinction of Bryan Adams’ rendition of it as the hit single “Everything I Do” which got played out during the decade at weddings and on soft rock radio. The orchestral version used in the film is really lovely.

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is a movie I want to like. It’s got a lot going for it but everything is just weighed down by the lead actor. It’s unfortunate, because there is a lot to like, but it is so hard to overcome that one, glaring central flaw.

Retro-Trailer

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