Saturday, September 3, 2011

Ten Statements About....A KNIGHT'S TALE (2001)

"Dumbass."  "Jackass"
"He hits like a hammer. It's amazing!"
"But not perfect. He aims high on your chest. Roll your shoulder back when you strike. His blow may glance to your right."
"If he strikes on my right! If he strikes me on the left I'll be obliterated!"
"Well, I didn't say it wasn't a gamble."

1) The beauty of this film is that Brian Helgeland takes a moribund, long-dead Hollywood genre--the boxing/wrestling soap opera--and by resetting in another time, not only making the sensibilities of that genre fresh again but giving the whole storyline something of a relevance to the modern audiences.

2) And unlike the Renaissance Pictures' television series that I suspect inspired Helgeland to attempt this film, he utilizes the modern rock soundtrack to create ties to the modern concepts he wants to address while still making his cast act more or less like how we moviegoers expect medieval dwellers act. When he does slip an anachronism into the language--like when Paul Bettany's Chaucer refers to William/Uther as 'The Rock', or how William declares Jocelyn a 'foxy lady'--he manages to squeeze it in without drawing attention to itself.

3) And about that modern rock score...I like it because Helgeland wants us to recognize that while it may be based loosely on historical fact, it's first and foremost a work of fiction, a fantasy...and we should realize that the moment we see the gathered peasants and nobles singing along to Queen's 'We Will Rock You.'

"Can you believe the future I'll be stuck fighting CGI
monsters in a string of dumb action films and you, you're
going to be a gay mercenary killed by a robot car..."
4) Someone needs to get into Paul Bettany's ear and convince him to abandon his quest to become yet another glowery action star and try some comedy again...because he has a true gift for it.

5) You remember how so many people, after The Dark Knight were going, 'Wow, Heath Ledger really pulled it off! He's a great actor!" I already knew that after watching this. You see, a film that's such a big ol' stew of disparate ideas, some having different intents and purposes, needs an actor with the force of personality and the skill to take this totally seriously. If a lesser actor chosen for being a pretty face had taken this on or--even worse--did this with a knowing wink and a sense of irony, the film would have failed. But Helgeland got Ledger, and surrounded him with actors equally skilled like Bettany and Alan Tudyk and Rufus Sewall able to keep the reality of this fantasy world intact, so the film succeeds. And speaking of Sewell...

6) I have no idea why Rufus Sewell doesn't have a bigger career. Maybe it's because Alan Rickman managed to corner the Nasty English Bad Guy market, but Sewell excels at playing the villainous Count Adhermar by underplaying him, keeping his voice thoroughly level and never losing his cool even as he's trying to fix a fight. In fact, the one part of the film that drags does so because Adhermar is sent off to the war for a stretch.

Somehow, I can't buy this as medieval fashion...or her as
a medieval fashion plate.
7) Look, I know this was the film that launched Shannyn Sossaman into a brief turn as Hollywood's 'It Girl' (until, apparently, Hollywood realized she kinda stunk on ice as an actress)...but I just. Don't. Get. It. She's arguably the sourest note in this film, the only one incapable of keeping her Medieval Ladylike persona...and she's got this strange face that seems badly fitted onto her face that's sort of off-putting. She's far from the best looking of the women in the film--I was rather taken by Laura Fraser's blacksmith Kate myself--and her lack of keeping herself within the film detracts from the veracity of the movie's world.

8) Okay, remember what I said about how Helgeland skillfully put the modern stuff into the film? Well, Kate's carving the Nike swoosh into William's armor...not so much.

9) Admittedly, this film runs a bit long at two hours and ten minutes. I would trip the third half hour a little bit...but only so I could expand the film beyond the climatic joust. You see, I sort of want to see a little bit of how the now-justly knighted Sir William ends up. Just a simple scene of William and Jocelyn happy together in their castle with his dad would have satisfied me as opposed to that nonsensical scene of William's retainers farting that was the after-credits sting.

10) As much as I've defended the film's use of modern music as a whole, I think I would have preferred the music handled more like it was in the 'Golden Years' dance sequence, where composer Carter Burwell created a nice bridge that eased us from the naturalistic sounds of a medieval band playing to the David Bowie track. Sure, I can still accept the more abrupt cues throughout the film, but the handling of that one scene showed me how much more cool this aspect could be handled.

But don't take my word for's the sequence so you can see for yourself how skillfully Burwell handled it...

Overall..a great little fantasy/sports soaper given a greater sheen by some smart casting, clever writing and a rather remarkable juggling of its rather discordant disparate elements. Later films that tried this mix of modern and period fell flat on their face...which makes me wonder if this was a case of lightning in a bottle.

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