Ridley Scott, whose revisionist Robin Hood premiered Wednesday night at the Cannes Film Festival (read Anne Thompson's account here), polarizes movie geeks like no other major filmmaker.
His critics charge that the art-school trained director who rose from the ranks of advertising doesn't make personal movies, that his films have characters, but not character. I'd argue that in movies diverse as Alien, American Gangster, Blade Runner, Gladiator and Thelma & Louise, Scott draws out the personality from his material rather than stamp his own on it. I'd also argue that, like David Lean, Scott's chief preoccupation is people (and cultures) in sudden and dramatic transition. Scott has found those stories in the distant past and in the near future. His history movies include Gladiator, 1492: The Conquest of Paradise, Kingdom of Heaven and Robin Hood . (One might count Black Hawk Down as a recent-history film.) Scott's future-shock films, Alien and Blade Runner, have been justifiably influential on design and urban design.
Still, for all the atmospherics of Scott's films, memorably the mist-shrouded fields in his debut, The Duellists, it is the performances rather than the images that I remember. Quite often, the performance is one of resistance: Sigourney Weaver standing her ground in Alien, Russell Crowe standing his in Gladiator, Crowe and Denzel Washington standing off in American Gangster, Daryl Hannah eluding Harrison Ford in Blade Runner. Susan Sarandon and Genna Davis facing down the truckers in Thelma and Louise. Scott likes his men strong and his women stronger. The takeaway feeling from his movies is that of a battle well-fought. One leaves a Scott movie standing a little taller.
Which is the feeling I got from Robin Hood, an enjoyable rather than an essential movie, with more oxygen and fewer special effects than the Lord of the Rings movies that obviously influenced it.