A Knight’s Tale (2001)
While perusing the aisles of the local video rental establishment in search of this week’s selection of flawless cinematic critique, it became obvious to your humble host that there just wasn’t much of an appealing assortment on the recently released rack. I couldn’t help but feel a pang of excitement, however, because I knew I’d be harvesting an “Oldie but Goodie” from the dank, dusty 99 cent rack. Dank and dusty is just how I like it here in the cave, and I ran across one particular film that, when I originally viewed it several years ago, impressed me so much that I simply had to add it to my personal collection. I remember being skeptical (as I am so often) that the juxtaposition of modern rock music into a period middle-ages piece would come across as hokey, superficial, and frankly, ridiculous. It appeared to me that this film would contain shallow characters, a brainless plot, dim-witted acting, and that the movie itself would simply just suck out loud. I’m happy to admit that, at least in this case, I was totally wrong.
A Knight’s Tale was brought to us by writer/director Brian Helgeland (The Order, Payback), who has some pretty fantastic writing credits on his resume. He wrote the screenplay for L.A. Confidential and he wrote Conspiracy Theory, so I knew he had the chops to put together a good movie. I was still cynical about this particular effort, though, and it took my girlfriend’s affection (well, lust really) for the film’s hunky star Heath Ledger (Brokeback Mountain, The Dark Knight) to finally convince me to crawl into the Cave and actually watch it. I figured it didn’t look too much like a chick-flick, and I certainly didn’t want to upset the missus. After all, I like to sit on the couch, not sleep on it…
This is the story of a lowly squire named William Thatcher (Ledger), who was given into servitude as a boy by his poor father, who simply wanted his son to have a better life than he knew he could provide. William becomes the servant of a wealthy nobleman, and he learns the ways of a knight at his side. Because of the rigid social structure of 14th century politics, however, William is destined to a lifetime of servitude. He is, after all, not of noble decent, so he can never attain his aspirations of becoming a knight. William is joined by two other loyal servants: Roland (played by Mark Addy of The Full Monty and Robin Hood fame) and Wat (played by Alan Tudyk from Serenity and Knocked Up). When their master suddenly dies during the intermission of a jousting tournament, however, William convinces his two other companions to help him don his former master’s armor and finish the match. Forced to choose between starvation and potential harsh punishment for the ruse, William’s friends agree to help him in order to win enough money to eat and make the long journey home.
Against all odds, William manages to win the tournament and it’s luxurious prize. Now brimming with excitement and confidence, William decides he wants to continue the scam and compete in more tournaments. He is young, rebellious, assertive, and opportunistic. His friends reluctantly agree to help him out of their loyalty to William and the potential to make more money than either of them had ever dreamed possible for men of their social standing. While they are able to help William hone his skills as a knight, they lack the ability to convincingly pass him off as royalty. As fate would have it, though, they chance to meet the victim of a robbery along the road one day. This man is none other than the legendary writer Geoffrey Chaucer, played exquisitely well by the gifted actor Paul Bettany (Legion, The Da Vinci Code). Chaucer is not only a gifted orator and hype-man, but he is also able to forge the documentation of a fictitious noble line, which convinces tournament officials from all around Europe to allow William to compete. With this rickety ploy finally in place, the quartet journey throughout the land competing against other nobles and earn fame and fortune that would otherwise be unattainable. Along the way, William is smitten by a fair noblewoman named Jocelyn, played by Shannyn Sossamon (The Rules of Attraction, 40 Days and 40 Nights). William now competes not only for his pride and his fortune, but for the love and affection of a beautiful woman who is out of his league.
Although the film is set in the 14th century, there are many anachronisms that correlate to the present day, not the least of which is the completely misplaced soundtrack. The way in which the modern themes and music are woven into the storyline is truly original, however, and great fun to watch. Despite shattering the illusion of a period medieval movie, Helgeland is able to create an entirely new illusion and fantasy world which immediately immerses the audience and somehow makes everything seem to fit perfectly. The film boasts terrific performances from its cast, solid storytelling, an amusing blend of comedy and adrenaline, beautifully crafted costumes and scenery, and unique cinematography that is gratifying in its own right. The plot itself isn’t terribly original, but this movie’s greatest asset is the way in which the story is told. And, while I enjoyed the performances of all of the film’s cast, Paul Bettany’s portrayal of Chaucer was particularly enjoyable.
The bottom line is this: A Knight’s Tale is an impressive old-fashioned story told in a refreshingly original new style. The world as it is created is immersive and intriguing, and the themes explored throughout the tale stretch effortlessly across the ages. The action is intense, the comedy is hilarious, and the drama is compelling. This is an especially fun movie to watch for exactly all of the reasons that, prior to seeing it, I thought it would suck. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, I highly advise skipping past the new releases rack and dusting this baby off. You won’t be disappointed. If you have seen this movie, then you know it’s probably going to be much more enjoyable than most of what’s on the new rack now, so why not enjoy it again?
Sometimes you just can’t beat an Oldie but Goodie…