With the Lord of the Rings trilogy now complete, it comes as no surprise that movies like King Arthur are stepping up to try and go medieval on movie audiences. And they tried to go the Lord of the Rings route also in the casting, with the nearly unknown Clive Owen as the lead and the only other recognizable name being Keira Knightley. Stellan Skarsgard is in it too, but I had no idea that it was him. But King Arthur, instead of striving for original, regal drama, uses way too much jester-like humor, much of which falls way short, like the movie itself.
The movie starts out with a little explanation on the myth of King Arthur, and the uncertainty if such a man actually existed. Apparently there is "new evidence" that suggests he, or someone like him existed. After that, we get a very small amount of background on Lancelot, not Arthur, leaving his British family to serve, mandatorily, under the Romans for 15 years. We cut then to 15 years later with Arthur (Owen) and his knights Lancelot (Gruffudd), Galahad (Dancy), Tristan (Mikkelsen), Gawain (Edgerton) and Bors (Winstone). They are on the verge of freedom, then they get in a fight with some guys, then take this Roman Bishop (Marescotti) back to Rome where they think they will get their freedom. But, alas, they must go on one last mission before they go their separate ways.
I can understand them casting unknowns, of lesser-known actors for this movie, because they didn't want the star-power to overwhelm the movie. I can respect that. But they really need the star-power in the writing category, because the script was very sub-standard. Well, I suppose it is on par for the normal for producer Jerry Bruckheimer, whose movies are always filled with attempts at cheap laughs and boatloads of action. But it just doesn't fit with this type of movie. I thought this might've been Bruckheimer's serious stab at dramatic flicks, but it turns out that it's just a normal summer Bruckheimer movie, only it's set thousands of years ago.
Oh yeah, the writing. Don't let the fact that Gladiator scribe (co-scribe, actually) David Franzoni wrote this movie fool you. Sure, Gladiator was a wonderful movie, but he also had help with the script from other writers, including the much more credible John Logan. Franzoni is on his own here, and he fills this script with corny jokes way too much. Some are good for a few meek laughs here and there, but he should've just kept the good ones, and ditch the rest that fall flat. Plus, we get virtually no character development here with any of the main characters, and, while I thought Merlin would be a significant character, it's virtually a cameo. Merlin could've been used a lot more, I thought. His dialogue, when he's not trying to be funny, is fairly decent, but the story is fairly predictable, stealing moments from Braveheart (the leader's speech to the troops) and other flicks. It just isn't a stellar script at all.
The acting is rather nice though, from this odd ensemble. Clive Owen, best known as the star of the BMW short films, The Hire, is a perfect choice for King Arthur. His chiseled face and mannerisms are on point for this role, and although he doesn't show a whole lot of range here, he does have a marvelous screen presence and carries himself well. Keira Knightley looks really damn good with the goth-dark hair, and her performance as Guinevere, the fighting queen-to-be, throws in a little bit of range to balance out Owen lack thereof. The rest of the Knights of the Round Table perform nicely, but my favorite performance is from Ray Winstone as Bors, or basically the equivalent of Gimli from Lord of the Rings. He's a very outspoken, gruff man who adds a lot of charge and emotion from the normally soft-spoken knights. Stephen Dillane got a raw deal in not having his Merlin character on more, but Stellan Skarsgard is fairly convincing as the bad Saxon, Cedric, and Til Schweiger performs rather nicely as Cedric's vengeful son, Cynric.
Director Antoine Fuqua has definitely proved his talent with his remarkable job at the helm of Training Day. But that was the type of movie that had all elements clicking on all cylinders together. In King Arthur, as in his last film Tears of the Sun, he does a great job directing, but the problems in the script just take away from his direction too much. He handles his most ambitious project, by far, rather nicely with some wonderful battle scenes, and accentuating the truly dramatic parts nicely. It would've been a lot better, though, if we could've seen his talent more clearly through a script that wasn't as muddled as this one was.
King Arthur is a movie about loyalty, to your heart and not necessarily to your country. It does have some redeeming qualities, but they're overshadowed by material that should've hit the cutting-room floor. This movie is highly over-produced, but like that doesn't come as a shock with Jerry Bruckheimer on board. Owen and Knightley perform nicely, and Fuqua is great at the helm, but it reminds me of his Tears of the Sun: directing talent wasted on a shoddy script.