The 63rd Cannes Film Festival opened with Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood. Stars Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett (but not director Ridley Scott, sidelined after painful knee surgery) faced 3,000 journalists from 80 countries. Launching a big movie like this at Cannes can leave a studio vulnerable to incoming arrows. It’s also incredibly expensive, costing Universal up to $5 million to fly in everybody from the talent to the executives and stage the glitzy premiere and after-party. Then again, the budget for the film was already high at $225 million (yet another reason Universal Pictures chairman Marc Shmuger was fired). Speaking from the red carpeted steps of the Palais des Festivals in his dinner jacket, Universal’s international president David Kosse was upbeat about the movie’s prospects. The studio is estimating — and audience tracking surveys suggest — that Robin Hood could sell twice as many tickets overseas as it does domestically, hence the Cannes hoopla. Then again, London’s Daily Mirror is giving away free pairs of Robin Hood tickets to its readers starting this weekend.
So what kind of reception has Universal received for its money? The execs thought the movie “played great” to the media, gushing to Deadline that “reviews and early numbers internationally are terrific”. But I found press reaction to the first screening was muted, with some critics questioning the political correctness of the script.
The French press have been almost hostile, not surprising given how unkind this version of Robin Hood is about their countrymen, who are portrayed at best as a kind of Gallic Keystone Kops. Of the London critics, reaction has been mixed. The Times wrote that Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe have delivered a film more provocative than most of the product unspooling here over the next 13 days. The Daily Telegraph said it’s Ridley Scott’s best movie since Gladiator. And Chris Tookey in the Daily Mail called Robin Hood a “magnificent return to form for Sir Ridley Scott with this magnificent epic… This is a cracking good yarn, and you should see it.” But Xan Brooks in the Guardian said he watched the movie in an unfilled cinema that barely responded with applause when the end credits rolled. The Spectator magazine said this Robin is “horribly long … serious to a fault … a dull movie of the kind that doesn’t pay emotional dividends”.
Russell Crowe, who at Cannes grabbed media attention by picking a fight with Big Media, was criticized in some quarters: “Playing Robin with all the mumbling machismo he can muster, there are times when watching him is as fun as a visit from the tax inspector,” wrote James Mottram in the Independent. Uk critics have been kinder about Cate Blanchett though, with most liking her beefed-up Maid Marian role.