Movie Review: Last Knights

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After his mentor is dishonoured and killed, a knight must decide what to do with his life.

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Kazuaki Kiriya, 2015

Raiden (Clive Owen) is a knight who serves Lord Bartok (Morgan Freeman, not that bat from Anastasia, unforch), an honourable and kind-hearted leader. Frustrated with the corruption that runs rampant in his country, Bartok decides to stand up to the Emperor’s debt collector, Geza Mott (Aksel Hennie). In retaliation for Bartok wounding Mott, the Emperor has him killed, his family evicted, and his castle burned. Now wandering leaderless and exiled, Raiden and his fellow former knights suffer in dishonour, struggling to find work. Raiden pushes away his wife, his friends, and everyone who’s ever cared about him as he seems to wallow in despair…but he might have something up his sleeve to avenge his master’s death.

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This is a modern take on the story of the 47 Ronin, set in a fantastical medieval land peopled with a cast of various ethnicities. There’s no magic to escape the drudgery of this slow, grey movie, though. Granted, the story of the 47 Ronin is not a happy one, but it’s one that’s steeped in history and can strike a nerve if it’s done right. This movie is not done right. There’s not a lot of fun to be had here. There’s a couple of action scenes that look okay but not great, and the rest of the movie is just a washed-out snoozefest where people speechify about Honour every fifteen minutes in between looking angry at each other. The downfall of Bartok is too quick, and the “destruction” of Raiden is too slow and painful (not emotionally, more in a dull way). There are some ideas that could have panned out, but the movie’s plodding pace doesn’t serve them well. The treatment of Raiden’s wife (the fabulous and tragically underserved Ayelet Zurer) is just awful, and the movie frames her as the bad guy for not standing by her man. The sexism on display is depressing here.

The decision to cast a lot of people of colour in this movie is an interesting one. There are some great actors in this movie who don’t have enough exposure in the West. However, the resulting accent soup is thick to the point of inaccessibility at times. Also, casting men of colour doesn’t erase or excuse the fact that they retold a Japanese movie with a white man in the lead. It also doesn’t erase or excuse the story’s appalling sexism. The only roles for women in this movie are as wives, daughters, or whores. Some of them get to be more than one of these roles, which, FYI, doesn’t count as being mutli-dimensional. It doesn’t help the Geza Mott is feminised in his villainy – or at least, he is when he’s not beating his (servile Asian) wife. I’ve only seen Aksel Hennie in VERY tough roles before now, so it’s strange to see him as this fey prince. He’s actually pretty good in this film, though. He and Cliff Curtis, along with one or two supporting cast members, actually deliver, showing what might have been if this movie had been good. It isn’t.

Last Knights on IMDb

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