A Knight's Tale (2001)
Directed by Brian Helgeland
Cast: Heath Ledger, Mark Addy, Rufus Sewell, Shannyn Sossamon, Paul Bettany, Alan Tudyk, Laura Fraser.
2001 132 minutes
Rated: (for action violence, some nudity and brief sex-related dialogue).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, May 11, 2001.
Picture it: Medieval times, circa 14th-century. A jousting competition is about to begin at the town stadium. And the crowd is stomping their feet and clapping their hands to Queen's "We Will Rock You." Yes, you read that right, and it is this ingenious, bold mixture of the past and present that makes "A Knight's Tale," directed by Brian Helgeland (1999's "Payback"), a worthwhile motion picture.
William Thatcher (Heath Ledger) is a young man whose estranged father was a peasant, passing down such lineage to him. He is broke, and desperately wants to make something of his life. Then it hits him--learn jousting, pose as a knight, compete in the tournaments, and gain money, honor, and respect. With the help of his two buddies, Roland (Mark Addy) and Wat (Alan Tudyk), William becomes Sir Ulrich von Lichtenstein of Gelderland, and turns out to be a natural at the sport. A force to be reckoned with, he single-handedly succeeds in making everyone believe he is of "noble birth," and becomes the most talented jouster in the land, next to the slimy Count Adhemar (Rufus Sewell). William has to be careful, though. If just one person discovers his true identity, the trouble that will follow him will be great.
So the story is thin and unoriginal, more or less a smaller-scale version of 2000's "Gladiator," and there isn't a whole lot to ponder when it's over. But that music! More often than not, "A Knight's Tale" is a rollicking good show that dazzles each and every time writer-director Helgeland treats the audience to another classic rock song. While using present-day music in a 14th-century setting may feel like nothing more than a gimmick at first glance, it acts as so much more. Not only do the songs fit effortlessly into the proceedings, tightly edited by Kevin Stitt, but they also pose as a bridge for the viewer, in connecting these medieval characters with modern-day people. From War's "Low Rider," to Bachman Turner-Overdrive's "Takin' Care of Business," to David Bowie's "Golden Years," to Thin Lizzy's "The Boys are Back in Town," to AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long," "A Knight's Tale" plays like a who's who of popular rock music of the 1970s and '80s, and is a genuine treat whenever the soundtrack is pumped up and letting loose its goods.
The songs aren't the only feature of today that have been transferred to the past. The characters all boast modern values and attitudes, and are all the more easily relatable due to this fact. Occasionally, there will also be slang used (i.e. "Hellooooo!"), and the movie apparently unearths how the Nike swoop was created. "A Knight's Tale" has fun with itself, and it is the intermittent mixing of completely different eras that gives the movie its reason for being. Without it, the film would, admittedly, be generic in the most painfully dull way, and have not a lick of creativity.
The first time he has been asked to carry a movie on his own, the dashing Heath Ledger (2000's "The Patriot") has an undeniably strong screen presence, and his character of William is both likable and interesting--the type of person you enjoy hanging around for over two hours. Opposite him is newcomer Shannyn Sossomon, as the beautiful Jocelyn, the quintessential love interest whom William falls head over heels for. Sossomon plays Jocelyn as a smart, witty young woman, and gives her more dimension than the role probably had, as written.
Lending adequate support are Mark Addy (1997's "The Full Monty") and Alan Tudyk (2000's "28 Days"), as William's lovable sidekicks; Paul Bettany (1998's "The Land Girls"), very funny as writer Geoffrey Chaucer, who becomes William's spokesperson; Laura Fraser (1999's "Titus"), as a canny, resourceful peasant girl who befriends William; and Rufus Sewell (1998's "Dark City") as the token bad guy, and William's competing nemesis.
At 132 minutes, "A Knight's Tale" desperately needed scissors to cut off the excess fat. The story is relatively simple, and the motions that it goes through are predictable every step of the way. As a 100-minute entertainment, "A Knight's Tale" would have been a little easier to give in to. As is, it is a good movie--nothing great, mind you--that works in spite of its flaws, first and foremost due to the offbeat approach with which director Helgeland tackled the project. It's been years since music has been so smoothly, and delightfully, integrated into a film.
©2001 by Dustin Putman