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The Reckoning

Paul Bettany stars in this medieval murder mystery as Nicholas, a young 14th century English priest fleeing his parish following a sexual indiscretion with a married parishioner. Scared and hungry, he attaches himself to a band of traveling actors, led by the headstrong Martin (Willem Dafoe), who is always looking for a way to improve his troupe's fortunes. The group's arrival in a new town coincides with the sentencing of a local woman for the murder of a boy, and when the troupe's standard Biblical morality-play bombs, Martin conceives a new show: the story of the murder. Not only is the new performance a blockbuster, but the actors begin to discover new evidence in the crime that casts doubt on the verdict and catches the attention of the local power structure. The Reckoning (2004) is directed by Paul McGuigan, who does a fine job of evoking period atmosphere, even if the subject of the story, and some of the dialogue, reeks of modernity. The acting is also high quality, with Bettany a bracing presence in the lead role and well capable of holding his own with the skillful Dafoe. However, what McGuigan is not so good at is framing a mystery, and most of his narrative is far too obvious to muster any suspense. Some of that blame must also fall on Mark Mills, who was charged with adapting Barry Unsworth's novel Morality Play for the screen. While the film is not disagreeable, neither is it ever gripping or otherwise distinguished, and it completely falls apart once Nicholas lays on the true villain (whose identity is telegraphed so far in advance that more than half of the movie is superfluous). The final confrontation consists of the most shallow of theological arguments, followed by a bloodletting too tainted by the preceding dreary debate to offer any gratification. Fans of 1986's The Name of the Rose may have their interest piqued by the plot, but are unlikely to be moved the substance. Also with Vincent Cassel and Brian Cox. Paramount's DVD release offers a good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 Surround audio. Trailer, keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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