**1/2 (out of 5)
July 7, 2004
Clive Owen as ARTHUR
Ioan Gruffudd as LANCELOT
Keira Knightley as GUINEVERE
Hugh Dancy as GALAHAD
Stephen Dillane as MERLIN
Stellan Skarsgård as CERDIC
Mads Mikkelsen as TRISTAN
Joel Edgerton as GAWAIN
Studio: Touchstone Pictures
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua
BY KEVIN CARR
In this new version of King Arthur, the Roman Empire is crumbling, and it is leaving its more remote territories to their own devices. Arthur (Clive Owen) is the leader of a group of legendary knights that have a knack for winning battles in the most dangerous situations. Arthur and his knights are given one last mission before they win their freedom, and it’s a dangerous one that takes them into the heart of their enemy’s fortress.
This is a banner year for historical drama, and especially those dramas with swords. However, it is also a banner year of films that kind of miss their mark on the entertainment side, such as “Troy” and “The Alamo.” Sadly, I felt “King Arthur” falling into this category as well. Maybe these were all studio ideas to capitalize on the success of “Gladiator” a few years ago.
One of the glitches I saw in this film is that while they tried to make it a new, untold version of the King Arthur legend, they tried to force some of the traditional legend into it. It was interesting to see how they set the characters of Arthur, Guinevere (Kiera Knightley), Lancelot (Ioan Gruffudd) and Merlin (Stephen Dillane) against the backdrop of the Dark Ages. However, a weirdly out-of-place flashback to Arthur getting his hands on Excalibur seemed a bit forced.
Also, this story lacks the forbidden romance between Guinevere and Lancelot, which is the crux of the traditional legend and all things Camelot. I didn’t have a problem with them not inserting a love triangle, but I get the feeling they tried to do it and cut it out. This comes from Guinevere’s reaction to Lancelot being wounded in battle. Something seems to be suggested that he meant more to her than the other knights of the round table (possibly including Arthur), but we’re left hanging with no explanation.
Clive Owen is remarkably dull as King Arthur, which is a shame considering his performance was one I was definitely looking forward to. After wowing Internet audiences with his turn as “The Driver” in the wildly popular BMWfilms.com’s webisodes, I was eager to see him in a starring action role. (I, of course, like most of America, didn’t bother to watch him with Angelina Jolie in last year’s “Beyond Borders.”)
For anyone who watches enough movie news, I was intrigued to see Owen’s work because he’s one of the choices in the running to replace Pierce Brosnan as James Bond. However, after seeing his bland work in this film, I fear he won’t be able to really carry a film. Maybe he’s an actor made for the web rather than the theater.
At times, director Antoine Fuqua slips into his themes from his last effort, “Tears of the Sun,” which was a really good movie in itself. We see this in the knights attempt to transport a village of refugees away from the invading army and their devotion and honor to help the downtrodden defend themselves – even at the risk of their own lives. These are timeless themes that work in many films, although the set up is a little too familiar to that of “Tears of the Sun.”
However, the themes of gender equality and religious freedom get a bit preachy – especially considering this movie takes place in the Dark Ages. However, like “Tears of the Sun,” Fuqua presents a delightfully evil bad guy. In this film, he is played by Stellan Skarsgård, who is one of those actors you’ve seen many times but will probably not recognize the name. (Think the teacher in “Good Will Hunting.”) Skarsgård does a masterful job as the ruthless leader of the Saxon army on the rampage to reclaim the land of England for himself and his people.
While the film is named “King Arthur,” I really didn’t feel a strong focus on any of the characters. Even Guinevere (Kiera Knightly, who is clearly a draw after rocketing to fame with her role in “Pirates of the Caribbean,” doesn’t seem to have a strong purpose. On a technical level, the film is expertly shot, and the battle sequences are very tight. It has the big screen feel of an epic, and it’s loaded to bear with battlefield violence.
History buffs will love this film simply for the fact that it’s giving the controversial new take on the King Arthur legend. However, your average moviegoer might find this a bit dull. The characters are steeped in brooding thoughts, and I just never really felt a connection to any of them. I’m sure this is relatively accurate because most historical figures are more famous for their deeds than their personalities, but it leaves a bit to be desired for the movie audience.