How do you mix a 1400s tale of jousting and swordplay with a load of rock music? Very carefully. It all starts as a crowd chants the opening monologue to "We Will Rock You" at the lists of a small jousting tournament, while our squire hero Will (Heath Ledger) finds that his master, a knight on the verge of winning the tourney, has just died. In a fit of passion, he straps on his master's armor and rides into the arena, winning the tournament for he and his two co-squire friends (Mark Addy and Alan Tudyk). Thrilled with the victory, Will opts not to take the money and split, but instead assumes the identity of a phony knight, rockin' and joustin' his way across France en route to "The World Championships" of jousting in London.
Of course there's a noble girl to fall in love with (Shannyn Sossamon, something of a poor man's Angelina Jolie). And of course there's an evil nemesis to battle (Rufus Sewell, who can apparently play nothing but evil nemeses from now on). And yes there's a wacky sidekick -- in this case, it's a gambling-addicted Geoffrey Chaucer (yes the Geoffrey Chaucer, played admirably well by Paul Bettany, a poor man's Sting), who creates the legend of Will's "Sir Ulrich von Lichtenstein" through phony documents and his crowd-pleasing introductions. And there's dancing, as the assembled bop their way through Bowie's "Golden Years." Altogether it's as full of anachronism as your average Renaissance Festival.
The guts of the story are borrowed from Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, of course, with a whole lot of WWF thrown into the mix. The combatants strut with chests thrust out, their theme songs play as they enter the ring, and damsels swoon as they do battle in heavy, mildly nauseating combat scenes shot in that already-clichéd, jumpy Gladiator style.
Fun? Yes, but the movie as a whole feels goofy and a little cheap, perplexing though that what is almost a comedy runs an oh-so-serious 2:15 in length. Not too surprising considering the oeuvre of director Brian Helgeland (best known as the writer of The Postman and the first director of Payback until Mel Gibson fired him), whose work has always been really, really long-winded. In fairness, he also co-wrote L.A. Confidential, but that was long, too. A Knight's Tale is really too protracted for the bit of fluff that it is: a reasonably good time and a novel experiment, and nary a whit beyond.
The special edition DVD adds about 10 minutes to the total running time -- there are no major new scenes, but the overall film feels a little fleshier, a little stronger (yes, despite my earlier complaint that it's too long). A whopping 11 behind the scenes featurettes round out the disc.
He will joust you.
Run time: 132 mins
In Theaters: Friday 11th May 2001
Box Office USA: $55.0M
Box Office Worldwide: $117.5M
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures
Production compaines: Columbia Pictures Corporation
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 58%
Fresh: 85 Rotten: 61
IMDB: 6.9 / 10
Director: Brian Helgeland
Screenwriter: Brian Helgeland
Starring: Heath Ledger as Sir William Thatcher / Sir Ulrich von Lichtenstein of Gelderland, Rufus Sewell as Count Adhemar of Anjou, Shannyn Sossamon as Lady Jocelyn, Paul Bettany as Geoffrey Chaucer, Laura Fraser as Kate, Mark Addy as Roland, Alan Tudyk as Wat, James Purefoy as Edward, the Black Prince of Wales/Sir Thomas Colville, Bérénice Bejo as Christiana
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