A Knight's Tale (2001) / Adventure-Romance
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for action violence, some nudity and brief sex-related dialogue
Running Time: 132 min.
Cast: Heath Ledger, Paul Bettany, Mark Addy, Rufus Sewell, Shannon Sossamon
Director: Brian Helgeland
Screenplay: Brian Helgeland
Review published May 13, 2001
While A Knight's Tale is a very standard and predictable adventure tale, it's at least refreshing to have a writer-director in Helgeland (Payback, Director's Cut) willing to take risks on the manner in which the tale is told, if not in the conventions. First, the subject matter of jousting would seem odd and somewhat archaic for subject matter for which to make a $40 million dollar summer release. What's more, to take Medieval times and inject them with such anachronistic events such as the crowd chanting Queen's "We Will Rock You" or introductions to the jousters as if they were pro wrestlers about to engage in a WWE Main Event is a gamble that could quickly mire a film into the realm of embarrassing unwatchability. However, with the storyline being as routine as it is, the gamble pays off because it injects a feeling of fun in what would have otherwise been tedious fare.
Heath Ledger (The Patriot, 10 Things I Hate About You) plays William Thatcher, a lowly squire who takes his master's place in a joust when he expires from his last match. After a successful venture, he has a taste for more but his social status does not allow him to compete because one has to be a man of noble blood for at least four generations to joust. Enter Chaucer (Bettany, A Beautiful Mind), who writes some phony Patents of Nobility, and William soon becomes the great Ulrich of Lichtenstein, and away he goes to live out his dreams. He enjoys great success but things aren't so rosy as there is another knight (Sewell, Bless the Child), who shares an interest with William in a certain lady Jocelyn (Sossamon, 40 Days and 40 Nights), makes life a bit miserable for him on his road to be top jouster.
A Knight's Tale is a film that is more entertaining than it is good, a definite guilty pleasure for the joy of admiring its chutzpah than for the mundane and predictable plotting. The creative mind behind it all is Academy Award winning screenwriter Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential) who not only pens this screenplay but also takes the helm as director, as he did with the also ambitious but equally enjoyable flick, Payback. Having the same writer as director is probably the only way you could pull off such a personal vision for creating a hip jousting adventure, and Helgeland succeeds in keeping his dream for such a film intact. Saying that it could have been much worse is a given, but by the same token, had A Knight's Tale been as ambitious in its story as in it's delivery, this could have been quite a bit better as well. One of the biggest problems is that for a fun film, it also makes the mistake of demanding that we also take it seriously as a romance. While it's understandable that the main draw for the movie is young girls who think Ledger is a total hottie, the scenes of romantic interest drag the film down into perilous tedium. Luckily, these scenes don't dominate the film.
A Knight's Tale is recommended for younger viewers and the young at heart, especially younger girls who will enjoy ogling the star as well as the music video style of the film. It definitely is not for everyone, as the anachronisms may prove too much for some, while cheesy dialogue and romance may turn off many others as well. Still, keep the expectations to a minimum and don't expect historical accuracy, and you should have no problems enjoying this as escapist, if forgettable, fun.
©2014 Vince Leo