A Knight's Tale
Directed by Brian Helgeland. Starring Heath Ledger, Mark Addy, Rufus Sewell, Paul Bettany, Shannyn Sossamon, Alan Tudyk, Laura Fraser. (2001, PG-13, 132 min.)
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., May 11, 2001
A jousting tournament set to Bachman Turner Overdrive? Product placement on a knight's armor? This so-called medieval tale throws itself wholeheartedly into the art of being as anachronistic as possible. Smirking at the audacity of it all is part of the fun, and if nothing else, A Knight's Tale is a hell of a lot of fun. It follows peasant-born Will (Ledger) who, determined to unwrite his destiny, passes himself off as a knight. Will discovers the fame and wealth and respect that come from a noble station, and the taste is intoxicating. Rechristened as Sir Ulrich of Lichtenstein by his scribe, Geoff Chaucer (Bettany, captivating in a role that could have been one-note but instead brings in most of the laughs), Will goes from tournament to tournament, winning riches and acclaim as a jousting champion. Of course, there's a slick, evil count with beady eyes out to get him, Count Adhemar (Sewell), and a fair maiden (Sossamon) who, typically, plays hard to get. A rousing (if clichéd) Seventies cock rock soundtrack underscores the action (“Low Rider” accompanies Will's training; “We Will Rock You” is the anthemic backdrop to a match), and dammit, it works. It works in fueling giddy testosterone to the film, and it works in working a guffaw out of its audience. The modern dialogue, even the modern sensibilities, don't really rub wrong in this terrifically good-natured film. Some elements do cross the line, though, like Sossamon's outré hair and make-up that are better suited for a day-glo rave than a 13th-century jousting tournament. Her annoyingly enigmatic character is the weakest link in this picture, a particularly troublesome fact considering much of the plot hinges on her. The underwritten yet over-the-top role embodies that tricky line between absurd anachronism and refreshment of the old and tired, and writer/director/producer Helgeland (L.A. Confidential) rides that line throughout. His jokes aren't nearly smart enough, the jousts repeat themselves, but then, he does pull a trick or two out of his hat just when they're most needed. And he's certainly found a good conduit for all the fun in his cast. Heath Ledger does what Heath Ledger does best, which is to produce a Cracker Jack, golden grin in the midst of triumph, and the necessary pathos for the really bleak moments too. His castmates are equally up to task. Will's entourage (played by Addy, Bettany, Fraser, and Tudyk) serves in conventional, “wise-cracking sidekick” parts, but each of the group charms in a way that makes these auto-pilot roles seem much fresher than they actually are. There's an easy chemistry among them, particularly between Ledger and Fraser (Titus), who plays a forward-thinking female blacksmith -- so much so that one wonders why Will didn't end up with her, instead (and enough is lingering in the subtext of suggestive language and pointed looks to hint that a subplot was cut in the editing). Minor grievances aside, this warped medieval yarn glides by on a funny, friendly, goofy sort of goodness. Accuracy to detail, it can't boast, but a commitment to a good time, it can.