A Knight's Tale

Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 2 Hours and 12 Minutes

Reviewer: Dale
Grade: A-

Fun. It's what this time of year is all about. I know that I should be champing at the bit to go outside and enjoy this wonderful weather, but, when you get right down to it, this time of year just puts me in the mood to get to the theater, settle in with a big, overpriced box of popcorn and watch something that is the cinematic equivalent of junk food. What's my requirement? I'll tell you. A summer film needs to be A) fun B) loud C) exciting. That's about it. I like good acting, a good plot, sensible ideas and the like, as I do any time of year. But, really, I just expect the first three and then I'm not that disappointed. Even by those lowered standards, however, a lot of films manage to piss me off.

But not "A Knight's Tale". In fact, it surpasses those first three expectations and shoots for the next ones. Is it loud? At times, yes. You won't believe how loud horsehooves are in a DTS theater. Is it exciting? Most of the time, you bet. It has a couple of slow parts but then it has the good sense to kick start everything all over again and make the whole experience well worth your time. It is also very clever. It has a spark of ingenuity and a sense of sweetness and good natured fun that elevates it over most movies of its kind, as well as pretty much all movies in the theater right now. (Lord, this is a shitty year.) I cared about the characters, which is more than you can say for many of the so-called humans in "The Mummy Returns", I cared how everything turned out. I actively loved many of the characters. Plus, the movie is a nice comment on sporting events in general, as well as the human mindset that leads to them. It has a couple nice things to say about believing in yourself, having pride and never giving up. It also has a lot of fun with its premise.

What is the plot? Glad you asked, because I was getting carried away. "A Knight's Tale" is the story of, no, not a knight, but a young peasant who really wants to be one. One day when he and the other squires discover their noble master dead in his own filth five minutes before a jousting match, young William Thatcher takes his place. He wears his master's armor, manages to stay on the horse, and refuses to remove the armor, thus winning the match. That was so easy that he decides, what the hell? Why not keep it up, make a little money and maybe even make a name for himself. After convincing the other servants (Alan Tudyk and Mark Addy, both of them great) they make their way from jousting match to jousting match, building a reputation, getting money and gathering William the attention of a young princess (Shannon Sossamon) and the wrath of a prickly knight (Rufus Sewell).

But the greatest thing about this movie is its willingness to have fun with the whole premise and to make the thing into a kind of rock opera at times. Some may hate the fact that there is modern music used in the movie, but I thought it added a lovely contemporary feel to the whole proceedings and livened it up a bit. A movie that has a bleacher full of commoners stomping their feet and singing "We Will Rock You" is a movie that is not afraid of the unexpected and taking a few chances along the way. Alan Tudyk as the colorful Wat (one of the other servants) manages to steal just about every scene he is in, he has a great presence. Unless, of course, those scenes involved Geoffrey Chaucer, medieval poet and problem gambler. Chaucer (you may remember him as the author of the "Canterbury Tales") is played by Paul Bettany with the same memorable glee and zest that Rhys Ifans brings to his characters. He is utterly brilliant, a scene-stealing dynamo and one cannot resist smiling when you see him come onscreen. He forges documents, invents family histories, frequently ends up naked and announces William at the jousting matches with all the bravado of a WWF ring master. I look forward to seeing this guy in more movies.

All this wonderful lunacy is also given a heart thanks to the effortless direction and writing of Brian Helgeland who, you may remember, also brought his deft touch to "L.A. Confidential" and "Payback". I love this man's willingness to take chances, his command of character, his way with memorable lines of dialogue and his method of investing a heart into the material. He makes you care, which is a very undervalued skill. Sterling work by him and the cast. I would also like to mention Laura Fraser as the female blacksmith in the picture. She is a breath of fresh air here as well. In fact, there were precious few characters I wasn't caring about in this film and Rufus Sewell invests his villain with such humanity that you hate the guy but still see where he is coming from.

All in all, this is great fun that might actually affect you a lot more than you expect, and it's certainly worthy of garnering your attention away from a certain money-grubbing sequel that's in the theaters right now. That has gotten quite enough of your money, thank you. Donate it to this worthy cause instead. You won't regret it.

P.S. Heath Ledger is not to be overlooked here either. He is more than just a pretty face. He is not just a preening stud. He gives the character plenty of shading and a bit of three-dimensionality and is to be commended for it. He is essential in making you feel for William's plight and want to see him fulfill his dreams, which is essential to the whole damn movie, in fact.