Last Knights (2015) / Adventure-Action
MPAA Rated: R for some violence
Running Time: 115 min.
Cast: Clive Owen, Aksel Hennie, Morgan Freeman, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Ayelet Zurer, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Cliff Curtis, Peyman Moaadi, Noah Silver, Ahn Sung-ki, Park Si-yeon, Daniel Adegboyega
Director: Kazuaki Kinya
Screenplay: Michael Konyves, Dove Sussman
Review published April 4, 2015
They say that there's no sure-fire road to success, but there is a sure-fire one to failure, and that's to try to please everybody. The makers of Last Knights have such an eye to casting a multi-national ensemble in order to have financial in-roads into just about every major theatrical market, that the ability to tell a cohesive story is all but completely lost into studio marketing box-checking. This film is directed by Japanese helmer Kazuaki Kinya (his first English-language flick), with American screenwriters, shot in the Czech Republic, with South Korean visual effects, featuring a cast from Britain, the United States, Japan, Iran, Norway, Israel, and South Korea, among others.
In order to support such a motley cast, the setting has been put into some sort of alternate universe medieval realm in which just about every race lives together in a specific empire, though it looks like it's shot in some sort of sci-fi planet more so than one that comes organically from Earth, or even born from the pages of a fantasy novel. We're supposed to believe that all of these culturally diverse people speak English and grew up in the same environment for generations, and yet many of them have different accents, some quite thick -- just one of many problems with the casting that will take you out of the film to ponder the curious nature of its production. Even the makers of the film know it comes across as a bit strange, so they have to inject an opening montage voice-over from Morgan Freeman (Dolphin Tale 2, Lucy) in an effort to explain how such a kingdom could come to exist.
Freeman, who plays a significant but smaller-than-you'd-think role, stars as Lord Bartok, an ailing nobleman whose end-days attitude has cause him to speak out more about the rampant corruption in the empire, including that within his own domain. This attitude eventually leads him to butt heads with Gezza Mott (Hennie, Hercules), one of the bribe-seeking high-ranking officials working directly for the Emperor (Moaadi, A Separation), and the two eventually get into a heated scuffle that puts Bartok on trial and at risk of losing status and possessions for his progeny. Clive Owen (Words and Pictures, The International) is Bartok's right-hand man, Raiden, like the son he never had, who seeks revenge for such an affront to his master, but his own predilection for drinking appears to get the better of him, only compounded by the fact that Gezza Mott, paranoid and fearful of retribution, is continuously spying and tinkering with his life.
Though the mostly green-screened production design looks quite good for what must surely have been a modestly budgeted effort, it looks both richly detailed and inherently fake at the same time. It's a generic any-land that emulates the look and feel of fantasy realms, but it's not a fantasy at all, which makes the sense of time, place, and origin feel like it's in its own bubble, and the lack of roots eventually proves to be the undoing of this rather uninspiring warrior's revenge story underneath. While the design might be interesting eye candy, the hair and make-up is far too modern in appearance, looking like just about every well-coifed actor has just sprung onto the set directly from the barber's chair.
The plot seems design to emphasize big reveals, as the motivation of its main characters is kept under wraps until the right moments. However, too many tells undermine the revelatory components; we are introduced to Raiden early on as a patient and highly skilled chess player, so the entire midsection of the film seems a waste, as we can easily surmise that there's more to him than just being a slovenly drunk. It's more of a waiting game than a shell game for the audience, and at nearly two hours in length, the film could stand to benefit by trimming out at least twenty minutes of not-so-brilliant build-up for a payoff that generates no surprise whatsoever.
Last Knights is too much of a 47 Ronin-esque mish-mash to keep itself together enough for us to get a foothold of interest into its story, despite quality thespians, who surely must be in this film for a paycheck more so than anything they could have ever seen in such a boring screenplay. Nevertheless, the producers behind the film aren't looking to tell a story to last for all time, but rather, for casting with an eye for immediate returns, hoping the star power in several respective countries (it should be noted, that the varied racial and ethnic components have absolutely nothing to do with the story) will bring enough curious people to pay the money for theatrical, streaming and on-demand platforms to get enough of a return to generate what will likely be another generic, multicultural production of little import down the road.
It's all actors playing dress-up, but clearly, they're given nowhere to go but through the great slog of uninspired narrative elements. As such, you won't remember much of Last Knights by tomorrow night.
©2015 Vince Leo