So why all the hate? I’ve seen a few broad claims: first, that Kevin Costner was simply the wrong guy to be Robin Hood. I’ll address that more at length, below. Second, I’m constantly seeing the complaint that Kevin Costner couldn’t “hold an English accent,” which… and I hate to make unqualified statements of critical judgment, but… is a dumbass reason to discount the performance. There’s no such thing as an “authentic” Crusades-era British accent any more, and if anyone had one, I’m sure they would need to be subtitled. I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that Kevin Costner spoke in a nondescript American accent so that a strained enunciation wouldn’t get in the way of his character portrayal. It’s sad that I even have to defend against this claim. I’d defend against other complaints that critics have thrown around, but honestly, I haven’t seen any that are specific enough to warrant addressing.I think, really, Prince of Thieves was a victim of certain circumstances surrounding its release. First of all, it was attached to one of the most catchy, sappy songs ever written (I don’t think that’s a hyperbole), and it’s very difficult to think about the movie without getting the song stuck in your head. The romance aspect of Prince of Thieves is actually fairly minimal; there’s no sex scene, tender or otherwise, and the central romantic relationship often consists of Robin Hood being a smart-ass and Marian making fun of him. Unfortunately, the sap has seeped too deep into the perception of the film, and now it’s infected.
The other historical circumstance that brought down Prince of Thieves was the subsequent release of Robin Hood: Men in Tights, which is one of the few parodies to become more culturally relevant than its target. This is certainly understandable… Men in Tights is an amazing film, possibly Mel Brooks best work, and strikes with pinpoint precision. At no less than 5 or 6 moments in the first half of Prince of Thieves, I had to stifle laughter, because I remembered the corresponding moments in Men in Tights: the removal of Locksley castle, the river-crossing, and Ahchoo’s various remarks to Blinkin and Robin Hood. In fact, I think the criticism mentioned above, re: the accent, may have come directly from Men in Tights, when Cary Elwes said to Prince John (and the camera), “Because unlike some Robin Hoods, I can speak with an English accent.” Attention, Mel Brooks: you made a masterpiece. However, I rather pity Prince of Thieves for having to live in the shadow of its parody.
Parodies aside... I'd like to go ahead and talk about that (overly?)-serious 1991 version of Robin Hood. I'd like to talk about why it will always be my favorite.
Enter Crowe and Costner. These are two wildly different visions of a medieval hero, with Costner making the transition from old melodramatic fantasy, and Crowe carving an alarming new model of muscle and anger and mud-soaked angst. If we were playing NetHack (or WoW, or D&D, or whatever… how old are you?) then Costner’s character class would be “Rogue,” whereas Crowe’s would be “Barbarian.” Costner would have the advantages of speed and agility, exemplified by his swinging from ropes, stabbing with knives, and firing quicker than Will Scarlet can throw a knife. I can’t really see Russell Crowe’s Robin Hood outrunning his foes, or engaging in a spritely sword-fight. He’s kind of a brute, isn’t he?And despite protests, I still see two figures in Costner that make him a fantastic Robin of Locksley – much better than he was as Mariner in Waterworld. The first is this “Roguish” thing I mentioned just now. In Prince of Thieves, Robin is charismatic, allowing him to be a leader, following from his confidence and the life experience he has from the crusades… but he’s also a smart-ass, which is what qualifies him to be a thief, a classic trickster figure, a true subversive. Costner has always had one of the best smirks in the business, and his lines in Prince of Thieves bring out his boyishness, as when he’s asked to turn around and present himself to Marian, and he asks, “Am I to dance next?” … or when his companion, Azeem, says of a river, “In my dreams alone have I imagined such a place,” and Robin replies, “Then imagine a way to cross it.” I know, he’s no Juno, but he can deliver dry sarcasm with the best of them.
Then, Costner balances a second persona with the first, and this balancing act may be what drove critics like Ebert to say things like, “What bothered me was that the filmmakers never found the right tone for Costner to use, no matter what his accent.” This second persona is the father figure, which is another role that Costner plays well, alongside his adolescent self. Costner’s fatherly tone comes through most in his sentimental moments… and yes, there are a lot of these… and in his confident authority dealing with individuals, like Wolf, Friar Tuck, and Will. Again, I quote Ebert, who says that Costner is “a thoughtful, civilized, socially responsible Robin Hood,” which reflects an inner peace that we understand comes from the character’s trials in the crusades. Calm and paternal and earth-bound: I may be mistaken, but I think this is how many of see our own fathers, and Costner plays it well.This fatherly tone is the greatest departure from the old tights-and-singing characterization of Robin Hood, and it made this version a bit alarming for some. However, it’s important to the thematic backbone of this version of the tale, which is romanticized, but tilted toward realism. This strong paternal instinct is what prompts Robin to start taking care of the displaced peasants of Nottingham, his altruism touched with the slightest bit of chauvinism. It’s a tone that also links this particular Robin Hood strongly to two themes that have always been with the hero, but that haven’t necessarily been capitalized upon so much: the theme of the father’s death, which is an overpowering force in Prince of Thieves, and the theme of loyalty to his king. Robin is a loyal subject, but clearly he sees King Richard as a father figure to his country, and strongly respects him and defends his authority, like a good eldest son. His personality throughout Prince of Thieves is defined by a willingness to step in and take the reins, first temporarily as steward to the kingdom, and then permanently as husband to Marian, and presumably as father to some kids.
I’ll speculate a little here: I doubt Crowe will manage either of the qualities that Costner brought to bear. He doesn’t have the face or the manner to be sarcastic… his confidence is heavy and self-possessed, more fitting for a Roman general. He also doesn’t really have the warmth to be fatherly, which is why, in Gladiator, it makes sense that we never even see him with his family. As a military-father-in-absentia turned vengeful force of nature, he’s great… but can a band of the disenfranchised trust him to build a community? Perhaps they won’t need to, if Ridley Scott focuses on Robin Hood as a master of guerrilla warfare and a great battlefield strategist. And from the trailers, it looks like this may be what happens.However, I’ll always think of Robin Hood as Costner’s character, “thoughtful, civilized, and socially responsible,” with his attendant ambiguity and introspection. For earlier viewers, Robin had to be a dancing, joyous forest minstrel, and for later viewers, he will have to be a brutal medieval warrior rising from the Earth. For me, he’s a smarmy, lithe, forest-dwelling romantic who will be remembered for much worse movies, when he should be remembered for this one.
Outlawed by acting law enforcement; appropriates "criminal" identity in order to defend locals and protect true king's rule
- Resisting Arrest
- Incitement / Conspiracy
- First-degree murder
- Probably second-degree murder