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A Knight's Tale
Reviewed by Jason Myers, © 2001

Format: Movie
By:   Brian Helgeland
Genre:   Medieval Sports
Released:   May 2001
Review Date:   May 21, 2001
RevSF Rating:   6/10 (What Is This?)

Those who've spent a lot of time reading about Arthur and knight's quests and so forth should be warned: A Knight's Tale is really not about chivalry, or adventures, or great battles between good and evil. It's more about the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, a kind of Wide World of Sports for the mace-and-gauntlet set. The movie is light, both in tone and intellect, and despite some serious shortcomings, it's not a bad knight out.

In the opening sequence of A Knight's Tale, Queen's "We Will Rock You" plays as crowds of peasants and nobles prepare to watch a jousting tournament. This did not surprise me. What did surprise me, though, is that the spectators actually chant and clap along to the song. This will bother some people because it is so ridiculous, but what bothered me was: the scene could have been so much more effective if writer/director Brian Helgeland (Payback, L.A. Confidential, Nightmare on Elm Street 4) had cast some more extras who actually got into it. There are too many half-hearted, rhythmically challenged revelers. With a little judicious editing, Helgeland could have made us feel like the clapping and stomping was coming from the spectators. Instead, it looks like poorly timed hand-syncing. I've seen people get more pumped up at Little League games.

Helgeland inclusions of classic rock songs throughout the rest of the movie are not done badly, but they're not done particularly well either. There is some definite fun to be had, but Helgeland should take some lessons from Baz Luhrmann (Romeo and Juliet, Moulin Rouge).

The anachronisms in A Knight's Tale will be one of the divisive factors between moviegoers who like the movie and those who don't. Detractors may say that the anachronisms are an easy route for lazy filmmakers and an attempt to dumb down the movie for vapid teen audiences. Maybe. But the humor in the movie is often sly and whip-smart (check out the part where the other knights laugh at William's girlie-armor).

What makes A Knight's Tale work, though, is its witty and game cast. Sure, Heath Ledger (William Thatcher) is competent and sure-footed. And Shannyn Sossamon (Lady Jocelyn) has a killer smile. But it's William's mates that shine. Roland (Mark Addy, The Full Monty) is the voice of reason, and redheaded, hot-tempered Wat is always threatening to "fong" everyone.

Jeffrey Chaucer (Paul Bettany) was also a wonderful character, in spite of the fact that he's more a (butt)cheeky jester than a literary presence (would they have been able to get away with that much backside flashing in a PG-13 movie if Chaucer had been a girl? Thin naked girl = gratuitous nudity. Thin naked guy = comedy). Rounding out the group is female blacksmith Kate (Friends, there is nothing hotter than a woman working with molten steel and a hammer). For a little while, I was hoping that William would forget his infatuation with the spoiled nobletart and go for Kate, but she ended up evolving into "just one of the guys," which was probably a more interesting direction to take her anyway.

Even relatively minor characters, like Prince Edward and Count Adhemar's herald, make great use of their limited screen time. Finally, Rufus Sewell (Dark City ) plays the movie's black knight (hair by Paul Mitchell, armor by Armani), making the most of what's a pretty slight role for a villain.

The jokes and the performances in A Knight's Tale are pretty much on target. Unfortunately, the framework could use some serious renovation.

A Knight's Tale is a sports movie. The competitors wear visors and bucklers instead of jockstraps and cleats, but their wipeouts are filmed with the same wince-inducing cinematography as Oliver Stone's ode to gridiron knights. The jousting scenes come complete with fans wearing face paint, and even that familiar group of overweight shirtless drunks. The upside: a sports movie about jousting has never been done before ("as far as I know," he wimpily disclaims). The downside: A Knight's Tale comes complete with the same tired sports movie devices, including the obligatory training sequence with music and telescoped time, in which the greenhorn athlete is, by the magic of cinema, turned into a serious contender.

Like most sports movies, the love story in A Knight's Tale is at about the 10th grade level. There's supposed to be this whole feeling of the brave cavalier winning the heart of the maiden fair, but it might just as well be the story of the cheerleader who falls in love with one of the football players. William thinks Lady Jocelyn is pretty. Lady Jocelyn watches William compete. They don't exchange very many words, but when they do, William spends half of the time doing the verbal equivalent of tugging at her pigtails.

At points, Jocelyn claims to disdain the violence of the jousting. She even gives a petulant little speech about how girls with flowers are better than silly boys with horses and sticks. But I think the lady doth protest too much, seeing as how she seems to have season tickets, and the most expensive box seats in the arena. Any potential commentary about the futile brutality of our modern blood sports are quickly dropped in favor of the usual macho clichés and "rah rah" sports stuff. And we enter that strange parallel universe in which risking serious personal injury for the glory of the game is a laudable sign of courage. I guess I was the only one, when Kerri Strug stuck that landing in the Women's 1996 Olympic Gymnastics competition, who thought, "That's pretty impressive … but what if she had snapped her ankle and landed face first on the horse?" Um, not that I watch gymnastics. I watch manly sports like … logging. Yeah, that's it. Logging.

A Knight's Tale is, like Don Quixote, harmless, irrational, and amusing.

A Second Opinion

I thoroughly enjoyed A Knight's Tale, and even more the second time around. It pulled off the combo of being medieval and hip at the same time. It grabbed me right from the beginning with Queen's "We will Rock You", and then having the cast "sing along" was a hoot!! It has all the elements of what knighthood really stands for: bravery, strength, loyalty, and, of course, tenderness toward the ladies. Watching this movie reminded me of everything I LOVE about the male species. Grrrrrrrr.

--Sue Ekman

In recognition of his courageous deeds and chivalrous nature, Film/DVD editor Jason Myers is hereby dubbed Sir Up of Ipecac.

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