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Paramount Classics Films

Official Site

Director: Paul McGuigan

Producers: Caroline Wood

Written by: Mark Mills; from the novel by Barry Unsworth

Cast: Paul Bettany, William Dafoe, Gina McKee, Brian Cox


There are some really brilliant shots and some really good intentions in The Reckoning; unfortunately, the rest of the movie tends to get in the way. The premise is an interesting one, and I’m sure the novel upon which this film is based, Morality Play, was rich and interesting, but the weak character development in the film version rendered it rather ridiculous. I was constantly asking “Why?” Why is he doing this? Why does she feel that way? Why do they have such good teeth in 1380?

The movie takes place in 14th-century England where Nicholas (Bettany), a wayward priest, flees his parish in fear of his life (count on a series of disjointed flashbacks to tell why). He bumps into a band of actors who recently lost one of their members and offers his services in exchange for food and company. A broken wagon axle forces the troupe to stop at a small town, where they learn that the murder of a child has taken place. Tired of his old, time-worn plays, head actor Martin (Dafoe) decides to use the murder as the basis for a new story. This decision spurs Nicholas to discover the truth of the murder, a task which endangers the lives of everyone around him.

Bettany’s character clings so relentlessly to the “truth will set you free” theme that oftentimes he seems self-righteous and downright irritating, especially when attempting to arouse feelings of inspiration in those around him. While I adore Bettany and always will, I wasn’t really feeling him in this role. He just didn’t seem very priestly, although I suppose that could just be chalked up to weak writing. Again, there were just so many gaps in the character development. We soon see that Nicholas and Sarah (McKee), Martin’s sister, have a thing for each other, although the attraction is never really explained. I guess just being unmarried and approximately the same age was enough back in those days. It’s also hard to pinpoint just why Martin cares so much for what Nicholas thinks. Is he that self-conscious, or does he have a thing for the former priest, too? There are so many characters involved and so many different viewpoints that the film is forced to go the route of Lord Of The Rings and focus more on plot than character development. It’s an unfortunate sacrifice that greatly lessens the movie.

Despite some flaws in the script, I have to give full props for the cinematography. McGuigan portrays the dirt and meanness of 14th-century England without any pretension, and the entire film has a dark, dingy feel to it. He sneaks in some artistic shots that are really quite beautiful, focusing on the limber bodies and bright costumes of the Gypsy-like actors. Every now and again I was reminded of a Hanes commercial, but overall I was quite pleasantly surprised by the scenes.

The pros of The Reckoning are Bettany, Dafoe, and some great camera work; the cons of The Reckoning are shallow characters and a rather kitschy script. Although I am a total sucker for period pieces (I fully admit overrating Hidalgo), I was remarkably untouched by this one. I felt that the film hid behind its costumes just as action movies often hide behind their special effects. This is one of those flicks that will be great to rent when it’s gray and rainy outside, but regarding the big screen, I would save the eight bucks for a hamburger at Chili’s.

—Emily Younger


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