A KNIGHT'S TALE
Director: Brian Helgeland
Cast: Heath Ledger, Rufus Sewell, Shannyn Sossamon, Paul Bettany, Laura Fraser
MPAA Rating: (for action violence, some nudity and brief sex-related dialogue)
Running Time: 2:12
Release Date: 5/11/01
Review by Mark Dujsik
I love when films take risks. The filmmakers put themselves out on a limb and pray it holds. While occasionally such films can achieve a sort of magic, more often than not, they fall flat on their face. A Knight’s Tale takes a major risk: it places modern sensibilities and music into a medieval setting. While this risk has its pay-offs and its flaws, overall, the film is predictable and clichéd, and I more than once had a feeling of déjà vu.
If you are expecting a faithful adaptation of Chaucher’s "A Knight’s Tale" from The Canterbury Tales, you should immediately look elsewhere. This is the type of extremely loose adaptation that the Coen brothers used in O Brother, Where Art Thou? The screenplay could have been written by referencing the table of contents and perhaps skimming through the Cliff’s Notes.
The movie opens with a dead knight. His three squires William, Roland, and Wat (Heath Ledger, Mark Addy, and Alan Tudyk) are now stuck with a predicament. They are now stuck in a sort of low-class limbo, as the knight was their only means of survival. William decides to take his place to the chagrin of the others. As we come upon the tournament, the crowd is pounding and clapping in that familiar rhythm to Queen’s "We Will Rock You." If you are not expecting this mesh, it will come as a complete shock. I sat watching in curiosity, taking note that for some time the crowd is only accompanying the percussion. This sequence works until one character begins to sing along. This is the problem with this combination. It is impossible for an audience to be expected to believe that this music existed at the time. I can accept that pounding and clapping as a cheer would have existed, but the acknowledgment of the lyrics and other instruments (a trumpet is shown apparently making the same pitch, tone, and timbre of an electric guitar) ruins the suspension of disbelief.
The rest of the plot follows a familiar path. William wants to become a knight, even though it is illegal (by punishment of the rack, which isn’t all that scary considering he will probably die otherwise). He trains and with the help of Geoffrey Chaucer (Paul Bettany) is able to pass himself as an authentic knight in other tournaments. Of course, there is a bad guy, the obsessed Count Adhemar (Rufus Sewell), and there is a love interest, the lady Jocelyn (Shannyn Sossamon). Is it giving too much away when I say that William will end up facing Adhemar at the end? Is it giving too much away when I say William and Jocelyn will become lovers?
Is it giving too much away when I say that they will dance to "Golden Years" by David Bowie? Well, that may be giving away something, but that is an example of another instance when the blending does not work. When the dance begins, we and the characters hear period music, but soon after, Bowie breaks into the soundtrack, and apparently the characters are aware of it and change the dance accordingly. Had they chosen a song which would have fit the original dance, this sequence would have worked.
In fact, why does Carter Burwell’s score occupy the soundtrack of this movie? It seems as the though writer/director Brian Helgeland did not want to completely fulfill the risk he placed for himself. Had the soundtrack consisted solely of classic rock songs, I may have enjoyed it a little more. I definitely would have given it much more credit for trying something new.
The story is predictable, and this material has been done many times over. Perhaps I am being too hard on the movie, as I did find it somewhat entertaining. I liked some of the modern sensibilities (there is a nice touch of product placement that I will not give away), the jousting scenes have a good amount of energy, and a subplot involving William and his father is surprisingly touching. Ultimately, though, A Knight’s Tale is an interesting attempt.
Copyright © 2001 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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