Kevin Costner, megastar of the nineties but latter-day nonentity, is hopelessly miscast as the tight-clad outlaw of Sherwood Forest. When away on the crusades his father (Brian Blessed) is murdered and Robin returns to England seeking vengeance against the evil Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman).
If you want an example of how to waste a talented cast, look no further than Prince of Thieves. Everyone from Morgan Freeman to Christian Slater is in this film, yet none of them are able to salvage anything worth watching from it.
Freeman offers a decent level of commitment to his role as a Azeem, a Moorish traveler with apparently no commitments of his own who ends up with a Wookie-esque life debt to Robin. With the film’s opening in the Middle East it’s an impressive level of commitment to explaining why there’s a token black character and it also allows for a sub-plot of religious tolerance – one of the few actual ideas in the film.
Alan Rickman is the only actor who really steals the show, however, completely hamming it up in every scene as the evil Sheriff, who spends his time lurking in dark rooms in his castle plotting evil deeds, dressed head to toe in black like Blackadder meets Laurence Llewlyn Bowen. He reportedly turned the role down twice until he was given free reign to play it how he wanted, which presumably explains why he wisely takes it less seriously than the other actors.
Like Dracula or Frankenstein, Robin Hood is one of those characters that film makers keep coming back to. Probably because they’re all out of copyright. But of all the incarnations of this hero of English folklore, this is one of the few to imagine him with an American accent. It’s not really an issue of historical accuracy – even the actors speaking in English aren’t talking how people 800 years ago would have done – but when it’s a film set in England and most of the characters have English accents it’s distracting when there’s an American accent in the middle of it. Most of the actors at least attempt the accent of their character, with varying degrees of success.
In spit of its $50m budget the movie looks horribly cheap – unlike Director Kevin Reynolds’ later film Waterworld it’s hard to see where the money went. It’s true that before The Lord of the Rings came along and re-thought every aspect of fantasy film making from the bottom up this is basically what all fantasy films looked like, but the cheap sets, dodgy Foley work and messy direction are quite astounding for a Hollywood film of this budget.
Since this is a bigger, louder, more 90s movie than previous incarnations, Robin is essentially motivated by vengeance, using the merry men and their anti-authoritarian beliefs to meet his ends. And in an ironic twist it subverts the original character by stealing from the poor (movie goers) to give to the rich (studio executives).