CANNES: ‘Robin Hood,’ ‘On Tour’

Posted by · 2:42 pm · May 12th, 2010

I spent a good long time trying to think of some glib, pithy way to link the pair of titles served up on the first day of the Cannes Film Festival, but must admit defeat — they have no common points whatsoever, apart from the fact that they both, like, feature French people. In lieu of such an intro, then: two films screened today. This is what they were.

“ROBIN HOOD” (**1/2)

It’s a fairly rote critical bitchslap to say that the closing credits are the best part of a movie, but that’s quite literally the case in Ridley Scott’s “Robin Hood.” I say this not in snark, but in praise: it’s a genuinely remarkable credit sequence, animated in rich-hued, painterly style, presumably by the same artists behind the Scott Free company logo (a personal favorite). It’s rather a shame it couldn’t be stuck at the front of the film instead. Perhaps Scott thought its color palette would show up the actual film’s symphony of camouflage tones.

Okay, that’s 100 words spent on the credits. If you think I’m stalling before delivering a damning verdict on the film, you’d be wrong, but I can’t find much of substance to say about it either. For the second summer blockbuster in a row, I must part ways with my esteemed editor in finding “Robin Hood” a sturdy if resolutely unfashionable entertainment, one crafted and performed by A-grade talent with more commitment than passion – but enough of the former to keep things on the rails.

Whether Scott et al have answered the “do we need a new Robin Hood” question is incidental – need is not usually a word applicable to the myriad sequels and do-overs of the summer movie season – but a new version of the hero is what they’ve delivered: Russell Crowe is certainly wearier and dourer than previous incarnations, but pleasingly human with it. Meanwhile, his screen personality meshes interestingly enough with that of Cate Blanchett’s proud, prickly Lady (no maidens here) Marian to make me want to see both actors again in something they really care about.

Brian Helgeland’s script builds a surprisingly neat and coherent “making of the legend” case – perhaps a little too methodically in a talky midsection, which really wants for a rousing set-piece or two. When those come, Scott commands the show with his usual technical brawn and fierce lack of wit; that such an impersonal if purposefully entertaining film is still his most satisying since “Black Hawk Down” suggests he should start choosing his projects with more heart – and that he and Russell Crowe should perhaps start seeing other people.

“ON TOUR” (***)

If “Robin Hood” officially kicked off the festival in a slightly stolid fashion, the Competition got off to a rather more playful start with Mathieu Amalric’s “On Tour.” Gifted with one of the catchier loglines of the Competition films – “Hey, it’s the French burlesque-tour movie!” – it turns out to be a gentler character comedy than might have been anticipated, built less around onstage antics than droll backstage exchanges and fleeting encounters.

Working the same seedy, rumpled cool that he brought to Arnaud Desplechin’s “Kings and Queen” and “A Christmas Tale,” Amalric himself anchors the film as Joachim, a formerly successful entertainment producer now reduced to managing a group of lippy American burlesque dancers on a tour of tired French ports – with a gig in Paris their elusive holy grail. The women (an engaging collection of non-pros effectively playing themselves) begin the film as a laughing, indistinct gaggle, but personalities gradually emerge – most notably Mimi Le Meaux, an imposingly tattooed striptease artiste who butts heads more vocally with Joachim than the others.

Story is a low priority here: Amalric strews his lackadaisical narrative with intriguingly tart suggestions of deeper-rooted problems – Joachim has a brittle relationship with his two pre-teen sons, while one dancer is ironically plagued by body insecurities offstage – but is more concerned with incidental and atmospheric details. Indeed, much of the film’s richest comedy is to be found away from the ragtag “family” at the film’s center, and in Joachim’s encounters with complete strangers.

This lack of urgency ultimately overwhelms the film in its final third, where it becomes clear that Amalric has little on its mind beyond cottonwool sentiments of the “everybody needs somebody to lean on” variety, and the hardly taxing 111-minute running time begins to feel a slight indulgence. But there’s plenty to appreciate here: Amalric has a witty way with editing and composition, aided considerably by Christophe Beaucarne’s jewel-toned lensing, and remains a delightfully sly and secretive presence before the camera. He might yet make a great film, if he can just find something to make it about.

Tomorrow: some combination of Wang Xiaoshuai’s “Chongking Blues,” Manoel De Oliveira’s “The Strange Case of Angelica,” Im Sangsoo’s “The Housemaid,” or whatever the Director’s Fortnight has to offer.

→ 10 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , | Filed in: Reviews

10 responses so far

  • 1 5-12-2010 at 2:59 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    The Strange Case of Angelica – surely the best movie ever made by someone in their 100’s.

  • 2 5-12-2010 at 3:33 pm

    Michael said...

    off to a great start Guy! I have no interest in seeing Robin Hood but it is interesting hearing a slightly different take on it for once after so many negative reviews. I am definitely interested in seeing On Tour if/when it comes to America, it sounds and looks like an enjoyable if not overly profound good time.

  • 3 5-12-2010 at 3:42 pm

    timr said...

    Well, given how entirely we agree on Robin Hood, credits and all, I’m awaiting the rest of your coverage with bated breath and even more faith than usual! Hope you’re having a ball, already.

  • 4 5-12-2010 at 3:46 pm

    Joy Fountain said...

    Looking forward to hear about “Chongqing Blues”. Wang Xueqi, the 64 years old male lead in the film, is the hottest acting chameleon in China right now.

  • 5 5-12-2010 at 3:48 pm

    JJ said...

    Glad to see your mixed-sort-of-ok-review of RH. I’m still looking forward to it. Hope it does well.

  • 6 5-13-2010 at 6:35 am

    ninja said...

    Robin Hood requires a reboot with actors of the right age and adventure spirit. If they go with a sequel (I suppose foreign markets will make this ultra-expensive thing profitable somewhat) , I hope they see the light and recast Crowe and Blanchett with younger actors. This way, they`ll get more appeal among crowd that drives boxoffice and cut the cost of actor`s paycheck.

    This could be the safest reboot ever cause hardly anyone would miss the terribly miscast Crowe and Blanchett. Also, the movie can lighten up when the weight of “OMG, if _____is in it, it must be an Oscar bait” is removed from its back.

  • 7 5-13-2010 at 7:47 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    We get it — you hate the film. Is it worth spending this much energy on? Bring something new to the table.

  • 8 5-13-2010 at 2:36 pm

    ninja said...

    Actually, I`m bringing something new to the table considering that “Blanchett is great in everything,lets cast her as Renesmee the baby, she`ll be fantastic, OMG, she can play anyone” is the oldest, most tired and most boring argument ever. So, yeah, asking for her recasting is actually very radical and forward thinking. Not many people would dare to say that.

  • 9 5-18-2010 at 5:19 pm

    Jeremie said...

    Just this mention of Beaucarne’s jewel-toned lensing makes me really happy. He is such a talented cinematographer.