by Greg Muskewitz
I hardly imagine Brian Helgeland as a premier filmmaker anytime in the near future, but the self-contained auteur (writing, directing, and producing here) has a fun, quirky quality about his movies. “A Knight’s Tale” is no different in his lineage of slightly odd constructs, but its ignorance of certain realistic rules or cinematic drawing lines makes it unique. In other words, not only does it color outside of the lines, but it scribbles outside of them. Oddly enough –and funnily enough—it works.Don’t let me fool you, the concept is not all that clever. Simply taken, “A Knight’s Tale” is like “Gladiator,” only with “teen” actors (a/k/a young adults), less blood, and taken place on horses, jousting, instead of hand-in-face survival techniques. However, there is a modern twist, where the characters are given a neoteric attitude and accompanied by modern music –like David Bowie, Queen, Eric Clapton, AC/DC, etc. When I had seen “A Knight’s Tale,” it still was a little while before the promotional push went into it, so I wasn’t expecting this mesh of times and ways, and neither were the others critics. Once I saw where the movie was going, it was a simple readjustment in my case, a quick change of mindsets. However, it was easy to tell afterwards, that many of the critics still didn’t grasp the beguiling purposeful twist.
"Have fun, get rocked. Or jousted."
Keeping most issues along the simple side, a poor-boy, apprentice of a knight, William Thatcher (Heath Ledger) has always wanted to compete in jousting tournaments. But alas, such a wish cannot come true because to be eligible for such competitions, one must be a knight, and William was born into a class too low. However, when the knight he serves dies, he decides to pose as him for one match, and with the help of the other apprentices (Mark Addy, Alan Tudyk) and a wandering, naked, gambling-obsessed calligrapher (Paul Bettany), he fraudulently creates his own identity as a knight (Ulrich von Liechtenstein of Gelderland). Of course, things never go as they are planned, so while it is not expected of him, we see the possibility of love for he and the fair maiden Jocelyn (Shannyn Sossamon), thus creating a rift between William and real knight, Count Adhemar (Rufus Sewell), who is also trying to court the maiden.
“A Knight’s Tale” contains a good amount of easily accessible humor, likable characters, a welcomed twist, and even a good beat to tap your foot to. It’s nothing that will cause giant waves anywhere, but it manages to be a good romp. The jousting looks great, nicely filmed, and is not skimped on. With the attitudes, music and raiment being an anachroism, naturally it provides the opportunity to measure what instead you would have preferred for the music, or what you thought would have fit better, but this is an amiable experiment. I do not, however, see it working as a repeat, such as the concept with “Memento,” and such modifications on this idea would ware thing extremely fast. It’s the little tweaks and pinches that entices you to want to look for the differences (not that they’re all that hard to find), but just the little things like the wild, spiffy and alternative hairstyles of Sossamon, or her funky star make-up on the side of her eye.
Most of the cast does a good job bleeding into the rhythmic cadence of speech, which sounds quite nice (even when purposely being parodied) and you get the unerring sense that they, too, are having a ball. “A Knight’s Tale” is weighted down with sentimental messages (you can do it, never give up, your life is in your hands, etc.) but it is mostly free of all pretenses. The acting fits the mark (particularly Ledger, Bettany, Addy, and newcomer Sossamon, and one only wishes more time was spent with Laura Fraser and Berenice Bejo) and they are completely capable of keeping you oblivious to the 140-minute running time.
It’s too bad, judging by early reviews, that some critics are reacting so badly to it. This is by no means that good, but it is good enough. Helgeland, in his small oeuvre, has a way of mixing reality and unbelievability to a decent extent –as unrealistic and hokey as “Payback” and “Conspiracy Theory” were, they were still fun and Helgeland coated them enough so that the errant storytelling wasn’t distracting from those movies, but adding to them. With “A Knight’s Tale,” even though he ditched one Aussie (Gibson, who had a querulous relationship with Helgeland on “Payback”) for another (Ledger, who was last in “The Patriot” with Gibson), it follows in the same quasi-theme and tradition, only centuries apart. (Seven, to be exact.)Final Verdict: B.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=4627&reviewer=172
originally posted: 05/12/01 09:34:37