Murder, mystery, intrigue, loyalty, spirituality, temptation, faith, and, above all, justice are the driving forces behind the film The Reckoning. Released as a direct to video movie in Sweden last summer, the film was able to snag itself limited States’ side theatrical runs earlier this year, although it ended up buried under the phenomenon of The Passion of the Christ for the most part. It’s a shame we Yanks missed a fine opportunity to watch a Scottish nonentity hone his craft with great precision. Now roughly a year after it hit the bargain racks at a Wal-Mart in Stockholm, it’s our turn to get the DVD treatment of this ensemble period piece.
The Reckoning is a hypnotizing, thought provoking, and powerful sacred quest of redemption. Set amongst the backdrop of merry old England in the heart of the Middle Ages, Nicholas (Paul Bettany) is a self exiled priest who, upon his escape from divine servitude, crosses paths with a group of traveling actors led by troupe leader Martin (Willem Dafoe). Nicholas joins the company of players and, after the death of Martin’s father, he follows them to a nearby village where the actors put on stage renditions of biblical stories. When first arriving at the village, the troupe finds themselves in the midst of a public trial of a deaf-mute girl (Elvira Mìnguez) who is accused and sentenced to death for the murder of a local boy. Soon after, their play opens and barely anyone shows. To incite public interest, Martin fashions the idea to make a play about the deaf-mute girl's story. Throughout their research of the case, Martin and Nicholas find out that justice had not really been served and the truth was hiding somewhere underneath the surface. They go on to perform the play in front of a sell out crowd, but by playing it safe and not delving any further than what is basically the one sided story given by the village’s law, they are booed off the stage and cast out of the area. Further investigation by the troupe, after their banishment, begins to unravel the true happenings of the fate of the local boy.
Paul Bettany has yet to truly have a role to shine in. He’s provided great support to Russell Crowe in both A Beautiful Mind and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, but has not come center stage until now. This film is all Bettany. If we weren’t entranced by his character's sins in the film’s opening, the rest of the movie would be all fodder. Regardless of other impressive talent like Dafoe and Brian Cox, it is in Bettany's Nicholas we follow this journey. We follow his tempestuous path to redemption, from his falling from grace to his striving for salvation. Bettany carries this film and its ensemble cast on his shoulders, like Atlas holding the globe. It’s too bad his next starring role is in next month’s chick flick Wimbledon, this film shows how much unleashed potential he really has.
Scottish director Paul McGuigan mixes great storytelling, a stellar cast, exquisite cinematography, and flawless production design into a little film that is better than its theatrical release’s competition. This is McGuigan’s third film, and it makes even more poignant the phrase “third time's a charm”. Like Bettany, his next opus bowing in a few weeks, Wicker Park, still looks a bit on the iffy side to me, but as long as he keeps growing as a filmmaker and Bettany continues to grow as an actor, there is nothing but great things for these two in the years ahead.
If you’re in the video store this month and you want to pick up a decent flick to watch, rather than sitting through elephant crap like Johnson Family Vacation or Connie & Carla, pick up The Reckoning. It won’t hurt, regardless if its Swedish direct to video roots. Trust me, you’ll thank me later.
The standard special features, like behind the scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, or an audio commentary of some sort are nowhere to be found on this disc. The only thing on here is the film’s trailer.
I would’ve liked to have seen a production design or costuming featurette. Especially for a nice looking period piece, you’d think they’d have one or the other. Hell, even a boring old cinematography featurette would’ve been nice. Usually the technical bonuses are boring and tedious but hold some tidbits of enlightening entertainment from time to time. Besides, at least that would be giving us something.
I would’ve sat through a Paul McGuigan commentary, even if he was doped up on pain pills and sounded like Groundskeeper Willy. I would’ve loved to hear from him on various little nuances the film has. Listening to Paul Bettany talk about the choices he made as an actor to bring this character to life would have been pretty cool... oh well, at least they did give us a trailer, something that's lacking from too many films these days. It's just a shame to see a movie this good get nothing, while blasphemous tripe like Van Helsing gets a three disc special edition.