While Paul Bettany is still best known for his comic performance in A Knight's Tale, he continues to prove that he has a sweet taste for more serious fare. Following terrific but understated performances in A Beautiful Mind, Dogville and Master and Commander, he excels in the medieval murder mystery The Reckoning.
Bettany, who is currently showing his comic side again in theaters with Wimbledon, stars as Nicholas, a disenchanted priest who has gone on the run in the 14th century. He meets up with a group of traveling actors that would make any theater production jealous - after all, the actors include Willem Dafoe and Brian Cox - and they make their way to a small town that is harshly ruled by a nobleman. Their typical plays do not appeal to the townsfolk, so they decide to tell the story of a boy who was recently murdered there. However, the deeper they dig the darker the truth becomes, as they realize that the woman convicted of the murder is innocent and that the true crime is much more horrible than first imagined. Nevertheless, in a time where truths can be bought and royalty is always correct, Nicholas and his fellow actors have to ask is it worth it to try and save one peasant woman from execution.
The Reckoning is beautifully filmed by Paul McGuigan, who manages to capture the torment that is raging inside of Bettany's character. More so, everything from drops of water to the castle on the top of the hill exude life. For what I can only imagine to be a pretty low-budget film, the sets and film look exceptional.
Bettany and Dafoe deliver A-grade performances, dominating every scene. Bettany, of course, gets the beef of the dramatic power; Dafoe's character is definitely not as developed. Unfortunately, the rest of the actors are all but completely wasted. Brian Cox, one of my favorite actors, is given nothing but a standard part here - obviously, the story appealed to him more than the character development.
The Reckoning, which is based on Barry Unsworth's novel "Morality Play," also provides an effective story. Period pieces that are not about wars often do not work, but The Reckoning does a good job of blending a dramatic medieval tale with a murder mystery. There are a few parts where the believability is questionable as the main characters seem to be able to say a whole heck of a lot without getting in trouble by those who set the rules, but other than that the movie is very engrossing.
The plot does struggle near the end as it gets to the point, but director McGuigan does a superb job of masking it all with terrific film work, editing and a perfect score. Again, I have to question the actions of a couple of the characters near the end (such as why certain people would do certain things to get themselves killed), but McGuigan makes the climax powerful nonetheless.
The Reckoning won't win any awards, but it is a well-done mystery-drama that works well on many levels.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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