Prince of Thieves (1991)

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

      

There have been many retellings of the classic story of Robin Hood and his Merry Men but none perhaps so tongue in cheek as The Prince of Thieves. With an all-star cast of upstarts including Kevin Costner, Alan Rickman, Christian Slater, and Morgan Freeman, it's impossible to take this version seriously, nor is it likely you'll write it off altogether as satire. While being loads of fun in its awkward moments, it still manages to be gut-wrenching and romantic... quite an achievement when you consider the inane plot.

 

King Richard has lead a group of men to the Crusades in Israel, where his men have been captured by Israel's "barbarians." Among them is Robert of Locksley (Kevin Costner). In a daring escape tactic, Robin is freed with the assistance of a native, Azeem (Morgan Freeman), who swears his allegiance until he has saved Robin's life in return for his own. They set sail for England, where the country is under the rule of the notorious villain, the Sheriff of Nottingham. Seizing the nobility's lands and property under false pretenses, and leaving devastation in his wake, the evil Sheriff (played over-the-top by Rickman) has his eye on the beautiful Maid Marian (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio). When Robin returns to find his family home in shambles, his beloved servant blinded, and his father's corpse on display, he vows to avenge the wrong done to the people of Sherwood. Along with Azeem he stumbles into the lair of Sherwood forest, where all those who oppose the Sheriff have been forced to flee for their lives.

 

A group of farmers, they have little skill with the bow or blade... something Robin intends to change. In the meantime, the Sheriff's old crone, a witch, has predicted Richard will return, and the kingdom will fall under their hand. Through the labyrinth of interesting characters, abundance of satire, tongue in cheek humor, and more than a few good swordfights, The Prince of Thieves can't quite make up its mind whether it's supposed to be totally off the cuff or partly serious. With the sheriff shrieking "I'll cut his heart out with a spoon!" (why a spoon? "Because it's dull, you twit! It'll HURT MORE!!") or throwing comical little fits only for the witch to respond innocently, "Is something bothering you, my lord?" we feel it's a comedy act. Yet with deaths in the families of the main characters, more than one harrowing escape, and a number of close shaves, it has the feel of a more serious medieval drama. I originally rented this a number of years ago but couldn't get through the first few minutes of film -- in which a surprising amount of violence is portrayed and two people have their hands chopped off.

 

Thus said, I still didn't enjoy it entirely even after getting all the way through. The humor is there, true, but something is lacking. Perhaps it needs to be either more serious or give up trying entirely. As other reviewers have noted in the past, Alan Rickman is the movie. Pity he has only limited screen time and... of course, dies at the end. Watching him chew his fingernails in boredom during the siege of Sherwood forest was worth the time spent observing the bloody battle itself. Not to mention the ending swordfight... or the death of his noble cousin. In disposing of someone close to him, he observes, "At least I didn't use a spoon!" The romance starts off rocky but then improves and by the end we're glad to see Marian and Robin together at last. Marian does the proper amount of screaming and protesting as the sheriff shoves her around the castle, but also can handle a mean blade. Morgan Freeman makes a humorous but also likable Azeem, who rescues Robin "when he feels like it." But Kevin Costnar is lacking; I can't put my finger on what (aside from no British accent whatsoever), but something's rather flat in his performance.

 

From a strictly critical viewpoint, this film isn't suitable for family viewing without the use of the fast-forward -- and occasionally the mute -- button. The violent beginning is only a taste of action to come when men are mowed down by arrows, impaled with swords, and knifed with daggers. They're also hit with flaming arrows. Women and children are roughed up. A hanging nearly looses Robin twelve of his men, in which we see a little boy among those dangling from the rope -- gasping and struggling for breath. The old witch gets her just end after being run through with a lance (which she presumably pulls out herself). She once cuts open her wrist and predicts the future with blood... and spit. Some bawdy remarks and a couple of gestures make their way into the dialogue. When Marian is arrested, one of the guards pins her to the table and makes a remark about looking inside her dress. This scene falls by the wayside with a forced wedding -- after commenting on how Marian will be immediately with child, the witch forces the priest to perform a wedding ceremony while the sheriff wrestles his unwilling bride to the floor, preparing to immediately consummate the marriage. Humor permeates this scene, horrifying as it may be, before they're interrupted. Brief, obscured backside nudity is observed. Numerous uses of "b*stard" filter through the script, along with British slang and one f-word. Sometimes funny but generally violent and mildly offensive, I'm not sure The Prince of Thieves should be welcomed too readily.

 


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