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You'll experience flashbacks to A Knight's Tale while watching Paul McGuigan's dour The Reckoning, not only because actor Paul Bettany seems here to be doing a more glowering take on that film's Chaucer character but also because, in its own moody way, The Reckoning is every bit as anachronistic and silly as its medieval musical forbear. And unfortunately, The Reckoning doesn't have any laughs going for it.
Nicholas (Bettany) is a moody, repentant monk who, we learn at the start, has been horsing around with a married woman. When the husband catches him in bed with his wife, Nicholas is off and running through the wilderness, escaping his sinful transgressions and seeking redemption wherever he might find it. Redemption comes in the form of a ragtag group of traveling actors, a company that wanders from medieval town to medieval town staging Christian morality plays. Suddenly (and conveniently) welcomed into the troupe—which includes Willem Dafoe as an inscrutably and inconsistently accented troupe leader and Brian Cox as a traditionalist Bible-thumper—Nicholas finds himself in a town that needs his help. A woman (Elvira Minguez) is about to be executed for the murder of a boy, and something is decidedly fishy. It falls to the troupe of actors to do what's right and use the power of drama to challenge the oppressive status quo.
See, they're feeling the thrum of artistic expression within their modest group (as evidenced by the film's flashy, self-consciously arty stylistic interludes, in which the actors primp and preen themselves before a performance), and, let's face it—they need some cash. But more, they feel the need to dispense some justice. In short, they want to get medieval on this town's ass. All of which causes them to abandon those crazy ancient dramatic traditions and adopt a completely new format—that of a true-crime sleuth tale, in which they enact the story of the boy's murder in hopes of inciting a community upheaval.
The Reckoning, adapted by Mark Mills from the Barry Unsworth novel Morality Play, is a bit off-putting in its own moralizing, as it attempts obviously to capture that imaginary single moment in history when drama evolved from simple medieval expressions of religion to more individually artistic and socially conscious works. The film is given to grand proclamations on the power of drama to effect change, to ignite community passion. There's little subtlety here. Just as Nicholas gets a big ol' stab at redemption by saving this young woman, and therefore the town itself, the movie takes huge liberties with its period setting, injecting modern-day sensibilities into the 13th century. The result is that the characters are writers' inventions, spouting unintentionally anachronistic dialog and, well, seeming more like actors than characters.
The most damning criticism against The Reckoning is that its central mystery just isn't very compelling—and that leads to a pretty tedious movie experience. The townspeople involved are ciphers, and we never knew the victim, so why care about him? It doesn't help that The Reckoning is one of the more drowsy, talky movies I've come across. You can understand why big names were attracted to the project: A story about a troupe of actors that bring about social change is an undeniable draw for a performer. If only the script gave them more to do than solve a boring riddle.
HOW'S IT LOOK?
Paramount presents The Reckoning in an above-average anamorphic-widescreen transfer of the film's 2.35:1 theatrical presentation. Detail is good throughout, but not perfect. Sharpness seems just a tad off, lending the film a slightly soft appearance. In some of the darker, indoor scenes, I noticed some pretty heavy grain. This image gets special mention for its color rendering: Often, appropriately, the film is bleak with cold, wintry grays and other times, it's awash in brilliant, earthy reds. I was struck particularly by the use of red as symbolic of truth, perhaps. Black levels are fine.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
The disc's Dolby Digital 5.1 track starts off impressively, over the film's credits, with smooth sound-effect pans from front to back, leading me to believe I was in for a strong, immersive presentation. Unfortunately, after those effects, the track pretty much settles into the front soundstage. That being said, stereo separation across the front is impressive, with sound effects and score panning effectively. Dialog seems accurate but not entirely clear at times. Surround activity is limited to light ambience.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
The extras on this disc are flimsy. All you get is a collection of trailers.
First is the Theatrical Trailer for The Reckoning in 2.35:1 non-anamorphic widescreen, and all that's left is a series of Paramount Classics Previews for I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, The United States of Leland, Love Me If You Dare (which looks fun in an Amelie kind of way), Northfork, and And Now Ladies and Gentlemen.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
The Reckoning is a mediocre but earnest little period mystery that at least stars a bunch of recognizable faces in unusual roles. Image and sound quality are above average, but you should consider this disc a rental at most, considering its dearth of supplements.