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    The Reckoning

    And an actor shall lead them

    "The Reckoning," a medieval mystery in which a play-within-a-movie is intended to expose a killer, plays like a cross between Umberto Ecco's "Name of the Rose" and an episode of "Law & Order: S.V.U."


    Back in the pre-Edgar Allen Poe/Sherlock Holmes Middle Ages, the word "mystery" referred to morality plays — the film's source novel by Barry Unsworth is actually titled "Morality Play." These dramatizations of bible stories were performed by rag-tag bands of wandering thespians, sans benefit of bus or truck. Each troupe would write its own version of the same religious tales — Adam and Eve, Noah and the Ark, etc. (not unlike Mel Gibson's "The Passion") — but no secular material could be dramatized.

    Directed by: Paul McGuigan.
    Written by: Mark Mills.
    Adapted from the novel "Morality Play" by: Barry Unsworth.
    Cast: Paul Bettany, Marián Aguilera, Trevor Steedman, Simon McBurney, Tom Hardy, Brian Cox, Willem Dafoe, Gina McKee, Stuart Wells, Vincent Cassel, Elvira Mínguez, Richard Durden, Ewen Bremner, Mark Benton, Hamish McColl, Matthew MacFadyen, Luke de Woolfson, Niall Buggy, Julian Barratt, Tom Georgeson, Simon Pegg, Teresa Berganza, Rafa Izuzkiza, José Luis Martínez Gutiérrez, Valerie Pearson, James Cosmo, Balbino Acosta, Heathcote Williams.
    Cinematography: Peter Sova.

    Related links: Official site
    For his third film, director Paul McGuigan leaves the contemporary London scene of his films "Acid House" and "Gangster #1" to travel the 14th-century British countryside with just such a group of players. Among them are Paul Bettany (his "G#1" star) and Willem Dafoe, whose faces clearly have real-life Anglo-Saxon antecedents.

    Nicholas (Bettany), a defrocked priest caught with his cassock up, falls in with a troupe of down-on-their-luck actors, led by the taciturn Martin (Dafoe), en route to perform for a Norman noble (Vincent Cassell of "Read My Lips" and "Irreversible"). They arrive at his castle during the murder trial of a mute woman accused of viciously killing a young boy.

    The Reckoning  
    Nicholas and Martin discover the truth of her guilt or innocence as the king's justice delivers information in what passes for the beginnings of forensic evidence-gathering. Leave it to non-actor, former-priest Nicholas to suggest that a re-enactment of the original crime might help. "Who dares play things that happen in this world?" asks the company character-man, Tobias (Brian Cox). And Martin responds prophetically, "This is how plays will be made in times to come."

    Well Shakespeare it ain't, although Hamlet's rag-tag band of players did re-enact his father's murder to try "and catch the conscience of the king." But "The Reckoning" is a mystery tacked onto a "You Are There" historical backstage peek at medieval theater. Fun perhaps for those interested in the beginnings of contemporary theater, but hardly as riveting as McGuigan would like.

    Except for Cassell, whose Norman-accented English sounds a bit Pepe LePewish, the acting is uniformly excellent and the director shows the requisite meticulous concern for detail, even to the bad dental conditions of the period. But "The Reckoning" is so relentlessly without humor, which was one of the many joys of "The Name of the Rose," that its very gravity ultimately leaves it feeling like a lost outtake of the Alfred Hitchcock section of "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."

    MARCH 13, 2004

    Reader comments on The Reckoning:

  • The Reckoning   from elaine travis, Apr 9, 2004
  • Re: The Reckoning   from jan, Jan 2, 2006
  • [no subject]   from Boticeli, Jan 22, 2005
  • This was an EXCELLENT FILM!   from Kimberly Zemke, Mar 12, 2006

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