In critic David Thomson’s Biographical Dictionary of Film, he assesses Kevin Costner’s virtues: “reasonably handsome, passably virile, unequivocally ordinary.” Those were the very qualities that made the actor a star in such films as The Untouchables, Bull Durham, and Field of Dreams. But as Costner demonstrated in his own, award-winning directorial debut, Dances with Wolves, what he aspired to were roles altogether more heroic than the Joe Normal parts that made him famous. It’s an ambition that’s led Costner to disasters like Waterworld and The Postman, but he hasn’t been totally unsuccessful in his endeavors. Though larger-than-life roles don’t fit him comfortably, when he’s given a decent script and the protection of a talented supporting cast, he can occasionally pull them off.
Not the Classic Swashbuckler in Tights
Costner plays the eponymous 13th-century nobleman who returns to England from the Crusades to discover that his father has been murdered and his lands confiscated by the evil Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman). Costner’s Robin Hood is not the classic swashbuckler-in-tights, familiar to moviegoers from Errol Flynn’s 1938 classic The Adventures of Robin Hood. For one thing, tights are notably absent with Robin and his Sherwood Forest compatriots, who prefer capes, tunics, and trousers, while the Sheriff and his mates are S-&-M-stylish in black leather and metal studs. For another, Robin’s closest companion in this version of the tale isn’t Little John, but Azeem (Morgan Freeman), a Moor who accompanies him from Jerusalem, and a man wiser, more educated, and altogether more sophisticated than even Robin. Finally, while the outline of the story is the same as previous versions of the tale—Hood robs from the rich to give to the poor, battles the Sheriff, and woos and rescues the lovely Maid Marian (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio)—in this edition, there are notable changes to the characters of Robin and the Sheriff. This Robin, hell-bent on avenging his father’s death to the exclusion of other considerations, evolves slowly from roughneck to hero. And the Sheriff is altogether weirder and more metaphysical, determining his actions based on a witch’s (Geraldine McEwan) forecasts.
In the movie’s many set pieces, Costner is fully in his element. He looks good on a horse and whether battling hordes of the Sheriff’s men with his sword or swinging by rope through the Sherwood Forest, he’s completely at ease and credible as Nottingham’s charismatic savior. It’s just too bad that he has to open his mouth much too often to speak —it’s hard to say which is more painful, when he attempts an English accent or when he gives up and reverts to his normal, flat California monotone. Luckily, he’s buoyed by actors far more comfortable with the demands of the dialogue, particularly Freeman and Rickman. Both actors also benefit from roles that allow for a great deal of humor. Rickman, who steals every scene he’s in, is downright giddy as he delivers lines like, ” Wait a minute. Robin Hood steals money from my pocket, forcing me to hurt the public, and they love him for it? That’s it then. Cancel the kitchen scraps for lepers and orphans, no more merciful beheadings, and call off Christmas!” with absolute glee.
Running Time: 144 minutes
Genres: Action, Drama, Romance
British Academy of Film and TV Arts – Actor-Supporting: Alan Rickman
Golden Raspberry Award – Worst Actor: Kevin Costner
MTV Movie Award: Song
Director: Kevin Reynolds
Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio