Sunday, September 7, 2008

Film Review: The Reckoning

It's easy to understand why a powerful film like "The Reckoning" could appear and disappear almost simultaneously upon release. With the current popularity of Japanese horror film rip-offs and tired, formulaic romantic comedies, a morality tale set in 14th century Europe probably wasn't the most commercially viable undertaking for Paramount, the studio that released this film. The Reckoning stars Willem Dafoe and Paul Bettany in such solid performances that it is disheartening this film did not experience a wider release.

After watching Willem Dafoe ("Platoon") mug his way through "Spiderman," it was nice to be reminded that he is indeed a capable actor. Paul Bettany's body of work has demonstrated range (a flair for comedy in "A Knight's Tale" and skilled, dramatic turns in "Master and Commander" and "A Beautiful Mind"), but those films did not prepare me for the riveting performance he delivers in this film. As a disgraced monk fleeing justice, Bettany attaches himself to an itinerant group of actors who roam the countryside performing plays in exchange for food and shelter. He journeys with them to the next town, where they conclude that a woman has been falsely accused of a crime and has been unjustly sentenced to death.

I won't divulge more of the plot here because my goal in writing this review is to encourage others to see the film. While the film does have flaws (Vincent Cassel is wasted in the one dimensional role of the villain, and Brian Cox is likewise not given enough to do), "The Reckoning" is an allegory on personal responsibility in the context of good versus evil and it is a moving, gorgeously filmed, well-acted drama. If your personal taste does not embrace historical morality tales, this probably won't be your cup of tea, but anyone who enjoyed "The Name of the Rose," or "Flesh and Blood" (Rutger Hauer and Jennifer Jason Leigh), should find this a thought-provoking, well-crafted film.

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