(SPOILERS: Robin Hood)
I’ve mostly focused on the structural problems in my analysis of Robin Hood (story by Brian Helgeland and Ethan Reiff & Cyrus Voris, screenplay by Brian Helgeland) because the structural failings have the biggest impact. Before I conclude this series, though, I want to turn my attention to the character of Robin Hood.
Noting the problem of the antagonist that I discussed earlier, the character work in the script is much stronger than the structural elements. Robin’s character is consistent, likeable and has a clear arc. Most of the minor characters are well drawn and consistent as well. Some seem a little unnecessary – the sheriff, for example, and does Robin really need so many buddies?
For me, the most important thing to identify in your main character is their want and need. The want drives the external story and the structure of the movie. The need provides the character arc. If they are tied together properly then plot and character become interwoven into story.
Robin’s want in the movie is to live in peace. It’s set up when he flees what he sees as a pointless and immoral war. We also discover that he’s not all that concerned about playing by the rules – he disguises himself as a knight to get easy passage back to England. He’s looking for an easy way out, which leads him to make the deal with Walter to play the part of Loxley in return for the sword.
Robin’s need, as portrayed in the movie, is to take up the cause of liberty. Two techniques are used to dramatize Robin’s arc from self-involved to selfless. The first is his relationship with his father. In the ambush of Loxley, Robin bitterly says his father abandoned him when he was a child. But then the inscription on the sword brings back memories that make him question the truth of his belief. Later in the movie Walter reveals that Robin’s father was killed for advocating a charter of liberties for the people of England.
Simultaneous to these discoveries Robin is developing his own political outlook. When told that hunting deer is illegal because they all belong to the King, he declares nature is the property of all men. And when he sees the negative impact of the government and church on Nottingham, he feels compelled to help. When told the church is taking all the planting seed, he robs the church wagon – his first act of criminal defiance.
Often the love interest is used as a catalyst for the character’s arc. Marion serves that purpose a little – she is an inspirational advocate for the peasants of Nottingham, a Lady not afraid to get her hands dirty on behalf of her people. However mostly the romantic subplot exists on a more erotic level – the bathing scene, sharing a room, etc. (And there’s nothing wrong with this.)
In summary, Robin’s arc is about the creation of a socialist/anarchist rebel. And that’s pretty good because traditionally that’s what Robin Hood is. He steals from the rich and gives to the poor. Very Marxist!
But here the antagonist issue raises problems again. This arc works well if Robin is going to fight the tyranny of the monarchy, as in the original legend. But the big villain in the movie is Godfrey and the French. Robin actually defends the country (and thus the monarchy) from outside invaders. This muddies his development as a rebel.
It does set things up nicely for the franchise sequels hinted at in the end of the movie. However those sequels will never be made due to the failings of this movie.
There’s one final writing flaw I want to point out in the movie and that is the reliance on coincidence. The general rule in writing is: coincidences that work against your main character are okay; those in his or her favor seem like cheating. But it’s best to avoid coincidences altogether whenever possible. They’re lazy writing.
Some examples: Robin pretends to be Loxley to get across the channel. Then Walter asks him to pretend to be Loxley when he arrives in Nottingham. It would be easy to make this redundancy more plausible by having Walter discover Robin’s earlier deception or recognize his armor as belonging to the real Loxley. Then when Robin thinks Walter’s going to be mad at him, Walter could say, “this gives me an idea.” That way the first deception leads to the second deception instead of being purely coincidental.
Another coincidence is that the council of barons is being held at the same location that Robin goes to in order to find the charter his father had hidden. How convenient that when Robin finds the charter he’s right there to make his big speech. There are any myriad of excuses you could use to make this logical, or you could simply have Robin find the charter and then ride to the council of barons. Relying on coincidence feels lazy.
Those are a bit nit picky and won’t impact a good movie. But when a movie’s logic starts teetering, these kinds of coincidences can undo it entirely.
And now I think I’ve picked on Robin Hood more than enough!