A Knight’s Tale is too long by 20 minutes (as is often the case when the writer/director is also the producer), and it introduces some nits worth picking. But above all, A Knight’s Tale is entertaining.
Remember the Knightans
A Knight’s Tale follows three squires whose master has died in the middle of a jousting contest. Rather than face unemployment, one of the squires dons his master’s armor and goes on to win the tournament. The trio faces a new choice: split the winnings or continue jousting for more money, fame, and status.
The story is built on the same skeleton (including a loud rock soundtrack) as every other sports movie. The only difference is that this one is set in the twelfth century.
By all rights, A Knight’s Tale should be a bland, brainless summer action film, but it is a notch better. First of all, the setting is novel. There haven’t been a rash of medieval movies recently. The only film that even comes close is The Thirteenth Warrior, but that took place in the dark ages. Warrior itself was a dark film, grave and dramatic, not golden and energetic like Knight’s Tale.
Second, the characters are affable and charismatic. Our hero is a strikingly blond Heath Ledger, headstrong and egotistical, but irresistible nonetheless. At the grand ball he wears a loose shirt and an open-necked vest, showing off his gold necklace. With his deep tan and unruly hair he looks like he spent the day surfing and has “dressed up” in his least-loud Hawaiian shirt to go to the bar.
But a hero is usually the least interesting character. It’s the sidekicks who get to be colorful. That’s the case here as well. Mark Addy, who played Gaz’s sidekick in The Full Monty, and Alan Tudyk (28 Days) play off of each other like two squabbling siblings. They do their best to steal any scene they’re in together.
And even they get upstaged by Paul Bettany playing a young Geoffrey Chaucer, who has a knack for speech and an understanding of the power of words. There’s hardly a situation he can’t talk his way out of. Bettany has the same carriage, face, joie de vivre, and charming smirk as Matthew Lillard (SLC Punk); both come across as guys you would like to hang out with.
And I haven’t even mentioned the jousting yet.
The joust scenes are often interesting, well staged, and well edited (in stark contrast to the unnecessarily jarring and confusing editing of fight scenes in Gladiator). The sheer force of hitting another man with a ten-foot pole is clearly conveyed in scene after scene of lances shattering into rainstorms of splinters.
So if the film inspires such praise, why should it get only three stars? It’s the little things. For one, the jousting, impressive as it is for its realism, sometimes lacks the look of skill. Too often, someone gets knocked off his horse without even trying to hit the other rider. I can’t claim any historical knowledge — maybe every scene is perfectly authentic — but I got the impression that the stunts were dangerous enough without having the two riders actually try to kill each other.
Also, the plot was predictable. A pocketful of formula situations were set up, right at the beginning, predetermining exactly how the film must end. And finally, as my friend pointed out, the final scene sees the hero doing something incredibly stupid. You could try to attribute it to bravery or stubbornness, but really, what he did was dumb enough to dock the film some points.
Still, I have the notion that harping on the negative details runs counter to the evaluation of the movie. All in all, the energy and charisma on screen is enough to carry this film. The flaws are there, and you can predict the outcome, but somehow it doesn’t seem to matter that much in the midst of all the fun.