(SPOILERS: Robin Hood)
Last post in my analysis of Robin Hood (story by Brian Helgeland and Ethan Reiff & Cyrus Voris, screenplay by Brian Helgeland) I identified the Catalyst as when Robin gets Loxley’s sword and the king’s crown and decides to return them to England. But I didn’t mention where the end of Act I was. That’s because the end of Act I is a problem in this movie.
I often refer to the end of Act I as “the point of no return.” My friend Gregg Rosen calls it “the hero takes on the problem.” My friend Don Hewitt says it’s the point where “the hero decides to…” All are good descriptions of what ought to happen at the end of Act I.
I think as written Robin Hood attempts to combine the Catalyst and the end of Act I. Robin has made a decision and taken on a problem. The trouble is it doesn’t really feel like a point of no return. He can still walk away. We’d also like to have an idea of the challenges to come and we really don’t. Again, this isn’t a movie about returning a sword.
Anyway, on to the middle of the movie. The two biggest structural symptoms in the middle of the movie are lack of forward momentum and that fact that Robin isn’t very active.
There’s a screen time issue for our hero – we spend almost as much time at the English court watching the machinations of John, the Queen and the Chancellor as we do with Robin and Marion at Nottingham. Meanwhile in Nottingham Robin is never particularly challenged in any way. Whose story is this? What’s it about?
Let’s look at what specifically Robin does. He returns the crown, drawing the attention of Godfrey. Not bad, although Godfrey doesn’t really do anything about it except declare that Robin knows too much. Next Robin goes to Nottingham to return the sword. At about the halfway mark of the movie Robin agrees to continue playing the part of Loxley so that Nottingham won’t be returned to the crown once Loxley Sr. dies.
This is a pretty good twist. It gets Robin potentially involved in the other, political action and could put him in danger. The first problem, however, is that it comes an hour into the movie. The second problem is that it doesn’t actually end up putting him in any danger. His identity as Loxley is never once challenged.
We continue with Robin and Marion flirting. There’s a bit of action where Robin robs a church wagon that is taking grain out of Nottingham so they can replant their fields. Finally Robin leaves Nottingham to attend the meeting of nobles and make a big speech to King John that gets him to make a deal with the nobles. Meanwhile, Godfrey attacks Nottingham.
Okay, that’s the end of Act Two – Godfrey’s attack. It also is problematic but I’ll get to that in a second. Let’s look again at the Second Act. Basically what we see Robin do is travel (boring), flirt with Marion and steal some grain from a minor character to solve a minor problem. It’s all subplot stuff! This is a movie about the fate of England and our main character is busy with inconsequential events. Don’t get me wrong, the romance with Marion is a very good subplot, but it’s not the point of the story. We need Robin to get involved in the main action.
Okay, now to that end of Act Two. Let’s leave aside the implausibility of Robin showing up and making a big speech to the King without any of the nobles pointing out he isn’t really Robin Loxley. And let’s deal with the problems of John’s antagonist role in a later post. The end of Act Two (if the ending will be happy, which this one will be) is supposed to be the moment of failure. The point when all seems lost. We know Robin will win in the end because it’s a Hollywood movie, but we sure can’t figure out how.
Well, Robin convincing John to sign a charter of rights certainly isn’t a moment of failure. Godfrey’s attack on Nottingham could be. Things sure look dire for Marion and her people for a few minutes.
But then Robin rides in with his troops and easily defeats the French soldiers. Godfrey’s already left so Robin can face him at the end of the movie. But with a little quick action Robin has solved all his problems again. Marion and the town are safe. Sigh, for a moment it looked like we might actually have some drama.
The ease with which Robin solves his “failure” at the end of Act Two is a huge problem, but the movie has an even bigger one. We still don’t have a coherent through line. Is this story about defeating the French? Getting John to sign a charter? Protecting Nottingham? In short, the Dramatic Question is muddled.
From here Robin and his troops ride to the coast to join the battle against the French invaders. There’s a huge battle scene and Robin ends up fighting Godfrey one-on-one, and – in a rather contrived bit of action – saves Marion again. I’ll talk about all this in more detail in a later post but, for now, let’s ask what Dramatic Question this ending answers.
It would seem the Dramatic Question is “can Robin save England from Godfrey and the invading French.” That is workable. It wouldn’t be my choice for a Robin Hood story, but then this isn’t my Robin Hood story. Let’s assume this is actually the story the filmmakers wanted to tell.
Now consider how much time Robin spends actually trying to achieve that goal.
Yeah, it’s pretty much just the third act. For an hour and forty-five minutes Robin is wandering around doing stuff that is completely unrelated to our main storyline. The Chancellor character plays a more vital role in this story than our hero. I suppose we might say Robin isn’t the main character, but if not him, who? He’s the one who gets the girl and saves the day in the end.
This is a fatal flaw in the movie, and the solution is structural. And I’ll address that solution next post.