Tristan & Isolde

"Excellent"

Tristan & Isolde Review


Kevin Reynolds is one of Hollywood's most unjustly maligned filmmakers. I'm frequently astounded by the fact that his superior craftsmanship is not more widely recognized. Surely his attention to detail and sensual prowess is equal that of championed filmmakers like Ridley and Tony Scott (who both produced this film).

I suspect that most of this disregard is due to the fact that more often than not Reynolds' films are burdened with clunky and sentimental scripts. Films like Rapa Nui and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves were gorgeously shot and produced but weighed down by melodrama and hobbled by sentimentality. And then there was the whole Waterworld debacle from which it seems Reynolds has never really recovered. The Count of Monte Cristo was a start, but this is the film that should bring Reynolds back to the table. (I happen to think Waterworld is fantastically accomplished and enormously entertaining but don't tell anyone I said that.)

Tristan & Isolde is, as the ads trumpet, the story of Romeo and Juliet, long before Romeo and Juliet. It is the primordial love story, set in a Dark Aged Britain where all men are hirsute and all women are properly bodiced. The plot concerns the unfortunate romance between Irish princess Isolde (the stunning Sophia Myles) and glowering Tristan (James Franco). After he is prematurely pronounced dead and set adrift on a nautical funeral pyre, Tristan washes up on the wind-blasted coast of Ireland and brought back to life by Isolde. Little does she know that this handsome and exceptionally coiffed young man has butchered her unattractive husband to be, the unhuman Wictred (played by the fittingly named Mark Strong). When Tristan returns home he pines for Isolde but being a dutiful warrior thinks first of his King and the kingdom. To that end he journeys back to Ireland to become champion at a "reconciliation" tournament, the winner acquiring Isolde as a bride. Tristan wins the competition for his King, the delightfully sympathetic Lord Marke (expertly portrayed with the utmost sincerity by Rufus Sewell) and promptly spirals into a gloomy and festering depression when he realizes what he's done. Isolde is, of course, not happy being married to the King and thus begins a passionate and incredibly risky affair. Since things don't start well, you can imagine how they end.

Dean Georgaris' (The Manchurian Candidate, Paycheck) screenplay is dutifully dramatic; even the most minor of characters are prone to attacks of aphoristic stuttering. There is also an enumeration of side plots and twists and counter twists and while they are all wrapped up fine in the end, the going gets a bit bumpy around the midway mark. Eye rolling may ensue.

But the film succeeds most because Reynolds is a preeminent film craftsman. I am frequently disillusioned by the lack of well filmed movies at the cineplexes these days. Most Hollywood productions look incredibly flat, both in color and lighting, and it's a marvel to behold a picture that actually has depth on screen. There is a grit and a substance in Reynolds' films that hasn't been equaled since the '80s. Watching Tristan & Isolde in a purely visual mode is akin to seeing Blade Runner for the first time. It just looks that good, that fresh. And no other filmmaker working in Hollywood can capture nature as magnificently as he can. Reynolds and DP Artur Reinhart create a world that may not have ever really existed, but it is one that certainly everyone wishes they could live in. Another captivating, and essential, piece of the production is Anne Dudley's (The Crying Game) luminescent score.

Franco is a bit stiff here; he really plays up the tortured soul thing and it gets annoying. You want to just kick the guy in the ass and tell him to buck up. But I've always felt that way about Romeo and Romeo-ish characters. Myles is beautiful and she gets to stretch her acting chops in a decidedly more robust role than Franco's. But the star here is Sewell, who hasn't had a really powerful role since Dark City. David O'Hara, as the pungent Irish king Donnchadh, is also magnificent.

Tristan & Isolde is one of those rare cinematic experiences that feels whole, that feels authentic. Well acted and expertly crafted, it is an elegant example of work by a mainstream filmmaker at the top of his game.

Nice perm, Tristan.



Tristan & Isolde

Facts and Figures

Run time: 83 mins

Box Office Worldwide: $28M

Budget: $31M

Production compaines: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, Scott Free Productions, ApolloProMedia GmbH & Co. 1. Filmproduktion KG (I), Stillking Films, QI Quality International GmbH & Co. KG, Epsilon Motion Pictures, Franchise Pictures, World 2000 Entertainment

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

IMDB: 5.9 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as Tristan, as Isolde, as Marke, as Donnchadh (as David Patrick O'Hara), as Melot, as Wictred, as Bragnae, as Edyth, J. B. Blanc as Leon, Graham Mullins as Morholt, as Simon, as Orick, Richard Dillane as Aragon, Hans Martin Stier as Kurseval (as Hans Martin-Stier), as Bodkin

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