June 16th, 2004

The Reckoning, 06-14-04

We don’t normally go out to movies on a Monday night, except when we don’t have any other chance to catch one we want to see. We were intrigued by the write-ups on “The Reckoning,” an independent feature starring Paul Bettany (Gladiator, Master and Commander) as a priest on the run from his own transgressions who takes up with a small troupe of traveling actors, under the leadership of Willem Dafoe. They stop in a small town, troubled by the murder of a boy, and the trial and conviction of a mute woman for a crime. They investigate the crime, intending to create a new play from the story. New plays themselves are a bone of contention: the repertoire has heretofore been limited to familiar, sacred subjects, such as “The Fall of Adam.” Their attempt to reconstruct the crime convinces them that the condemned woman could not have done it, and Nicholas’ (Bettany) awareness of his own sin drives him to lay the crime at the feet of the true perpetrator despite the cost.

The film is very beautifully photographed, although frequently they are pictures of ugliness. The relatively pristine early winter countryside is contrasted with the squalor of the town. The people are so ingrainedly dirty that one expects a Monty-Pythonesque comment when someone shows up who appears clean. (Ironically, the actors, who must wash their faces to remove make-up, appear cleaner than the townspeople although they can only afford to sleep in the inn’s stable.) Very good performances by Bettany, Dafoe, and the whole cast. My only objection, other than to the perhaps excessive dirt, is one death scene that lasted a bit too long for my taste. Minimal gore, though--.

A very good, though grim, film. One knows that, in 1340, no matter how justified, peasants bucking the powers that be are not going to have an easy or happy time of it.