A Knight's Tale
Starring:
  • Heath Ledger
  • Paul Bettany
  • The Lamest Soundtrack in Recent Movie History

 

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Directed By Sir Brian Helgeland
  "Does he not entertain you?!?!"

           The most disconcerting parts of  A Knight’s Tale are the bizarre choices for the soundtrack.  It’s trying to be hip, but the choices are so horribly lame that the film begs for derision.  I liken it to having your balding, white-socks-wearing father DJ the prom. The selections haphazardly flaunt the notion that this is a clever idea, invoking a doctrine stating that Jock Rock is indeed Music For All Time.  During the opening, the dirty slack-jawed peasants, drool and roasted meat dripping from their chins, uniformly bang their fists three times in succession, indicating that “We Will Rock You” is somehow being pumped through the loudspeaker.  But wait!  It’s 1350!  The place is lower-caste Britain, but the time is at least six centuries pre-Freddie Mercury.  How can this be?  Has Brian Helgeland bent time to a place similarly occupied in history, thus proving chaos theory in literature?  Has he proved Einstein correct, that time exists in its own separate fourth dimension?  Will he bookend the movie with “We Will Rock You” AND “We Are the Champions?”

            I was thrust into further confusion when Heath and the boys, while engaging in some jousting drills in the woods, were working out to “Low Rider.”   Looking at Heath Ledger perched atop his trusty steed, I sensed a paradox in Helgeland’s artistic vision, but perhaps I missed something.  Did Heath’s horse have stubby legs?  Would that be an advantage during a joust?  All was well, though, when Heath finally entered a competition and dispatched of his inferior adversaries to the tune of “Taking Care of Business.”  By no means original, but at least consistent with the overbearing literalness I perceived thus far.

            But my contentment was only temporary, though.  When Heath and his girl attempt a variation of the palmer’s dance using only their pinkies, the musical jongleurs—somewhere in the background of the scene—must have dropped their lyres and flutes in favor of bass guitars so the dance could magically evolve into a ballroom David Bowie disco. 

            An interesting choice by Sir Helgeland:  I would have preferred a wooden flute led “That’s the Way I Like It,” or even more bombastically, “I’m Your Boogie Man,” but I think anything by KC and the Sunshine Band would have done.  In any case, this would  all be quite a trick, considering that western music had only conquered polyphony in the 1150’s.  But alas, we then become stuck with some generic guitar blues to drink our mead by, and we get a curious chanting of “Haec Dies” in a cathedral with no singing monks anywhere in sight.  Triumphant return begets “The Boys are Back in Town,” and pre-joust preparation requires “Get Ready,” of course—I’ll forgive a lot of things in the movies, but when Helgeland chooses to besmirch The Temptations, my tolerance ends.  Moreover, when Heath’s woman requires that he take a lance in the chest to prove his devotion, “Love Hurts” is nowhere to be found.

            But the final straw comes in the grand finale:  surely, somewhere in A Brief History of Time it is written that if you begin with “We Will Rock You” that you must end with “We Are the Champions,” but Brian Helgeland, damn him, gives us AC/DC.  If Helgeland were a real visionary, he would have employed Angus as the personal troubadour of Sir Ledger, or even gone a step farther to institute an all-Queen motif.  Surely Heath would be honored to be underscored by “Another One Bites the Dust, “Under Pressure,” or “Somebody to Love.”

            If you haven’t gathered it already, A Knight’s Tale is mostly embarrassing.  It’s standard, underdog-hero-conquers-all-odds-and-gets-the-girl stuff, told though the conceit of fictional medieval jousting tournaments.  Helgeland leaves no melodramatic stone unturned, but I have to ask one simple, not insignificant, question:  If jousting is to be done only by nobles, with notarized proof of blue blood, then why does Dad sell his son to be an apprentice knight if he is just a poor thatcher?  By that time in the movie, I didn’t care:  I had seen enough of the low-rent Gladiator rip-off sets; I had seen enough of Heath Ledger trying to be earnest.  He may someday be a real movie star, but right now he’s too boyish to carry anything other than a teen exploitation flick.  He certainly doesn’t have the sort of magic to sell me on this anachronistic hokeydom.  Ledger has that brand of androgynous sexuality common to teen idols—in fact, he looks like a blonde Leif Garrett.  I do have to admit that he earned his paycheck, though; I found amusement watching Heath get bludgeoned and contorted by various rudimentary contraptions made of wood and rusty metal.

            What also kept me in my seat was Paul Bettany’s performance as Geoffrey Chaucer.  Never mind the fact that Helgeland reduced the English language’s first great writer into a wildly gesticulating Michael Buffer, I admired Bettany’s willingness to be a good sport.   He is introduced to us dirt-smeared and butt-cheek naked, brought on by his gambling problem, which, in an odd way, sounds sort of Chaucerian.  Chaucer’s job is to function like a professional wrestler’s entrance theme:  he gets the crowd riled up for a hero who can’t possibly match the boasts of his overture.  Bettany’s “Chaucer” has all the smarmy charm of a young lounge lizard or a struggling stand-up comedian, but with the brooding posture of a desperate poet—like he’s channeling the spirit of Joseph Fiennes’ William Shakespeare.  And as an added bonus, the screen crackles with homoerotic tension whenever Bettany and Alan Tudyk share the screenkind of like Goose and Maverick, but with balsa wood lances, not fighter planes.  I also enjoyed his moments of satisfaction after a particularly crowd-rousing speech (“Damn, I’m good!”), but don’t take this praise as an excuse to see the film:  Oliver Stone and Ridley Scott have already covered this sports-as-metaphor territory in the last two years.  What you get with A Knight’s Tale is the XFL version of Gladiator and the suspicion that if Russell Crowe is the Dan Marino of sexy Australian action stars, then Heath Ledger is Tommy Maddox.

The Pitch:
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1 Russell Crowe
+
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  Freddie Mercury
Equals
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1 A Knight's Tale
See It For:
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The most homoerotic symbolism in a popcorn movie since Iceman said, "Maverick, I've got your tail."