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In 14th-century England, a young monk breaks his vow of chastity and flees the wrath of his bishop and fellow monks. A fugitive priest, he then witnesses the murder of a traveling performer--and subsequently, the mourning of actor by his fellow troupe members. He eventually becomes initiated into the troupe as a player, replacing the murdered man. They travel from town to town performing their standard morality play. They arrive in a town where a boy has been killed and a young deaf-mute girl has been imprisoned for the crime--sentenced to death for witchcraft and murder. Discarding the expected bible stories, the actors stage a performance based on the crime. Through the performance of the play, they discover that the townspeople know the young woman did not, in fact, commit the murder. The stage becomes a place where vital human truth is told. Thus, simultaneously, the fugitive priest comes to terms with his own crime and makes a powerful sacrifice, thereby redeeming himself. Written by
Sujit R. Varma
Nikolas (Paul Bettany) is a 14th (or so) century priest with a guilty conscience. Guilty of adultery, he exiles himself to the countryside and casts his lot with a group of itinerant theatrical players lead by Martin (DaFoe). Though Nikolas has no discernible acting talent, the troupe begins to grow attached to him, especially as he develops an interest in the mystery of the disappearance and death of several young boys in a small town the players have come to visit. Nikolas exhumes the corpse, attracting the attention and ire of the local magistrate, and discovers a cover-up and conspiracy which his conscience can not allow to go unexposed. Since the courts, the local law enforcement, the church and the local nobility will not listen, Nikolas must plead his case to the citizenry. The troupe takes up the task using their well honed talents.
This is a very clever, well written, very well filmed, carefully planned piece of historical fiction. The medieval period is portrayed with far greater accuracy and sensitivity than the usual contemporary film affords, though its cleanliness is a bit absurd, the set is magnificent and reminiscent of Herzog's talents in creating a historic context. The language of the film is also as authentic as it could be without resorting to archaic tongues few would understand. The acting is exceptional, though a couple of Bettany's soliloquies were a little predictably presented (he seems to do a lot of this sort of thing) with DaFoe and Gina McKee providing especially touching and intense performances.
The acting and strong script combine to make The Reckoning as good as a character study as it is as a dramatic mystery. It is not, however, a fast paced thriller and will undoubtedly disappoint those used to the style of mystery currently in vogue - that is guns-a-blazin' sex and violence-decorated kill-fests. If you're not in the mood for a slow-moving but intense film experience, avoid The Reckoning. If you want to be immersed in a different, but very real, world, and experience a contemporary issue through the eyes of those who live in that world, see it.
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