The medieval murder mystery The Reckoning is good enough to get by, & anything with Willem Dafoe in it at least has Willem Dafoe in it.
Based on the novel Morality Play by Barry Unsworth, the film kept reminding me of The Name of the Rose, & the comparison injured this version considerably. The minimalism of the sets, evocative though they were in some scenes, never made me feel the characters were anything more than Anachronist Society players faking it at the fair.
A band of itinerant actors led by Martin (Dafoe), with an outcast priest (Paul Bettany) in their troupe, arrives in a village wherein a mute woman unable to defend herself is about to be executed for the murder of a boy. Sensing a "story" as well as an injustice, & a way to spice up the troupe's mouldering repertoire, Martin instigates an investigation of the murder.
The original bit in the story is how the findings of the troupe's detectiving are worked into a play enacted for the village, who will get to see themselves, with the clues to who the real killer was, revealed on stage. This bit of originality is alas framed by simple cliches of squallid plague-ridden ignorant medieval life, a world stripped down to a comic book version that can't convince anyone who has read even one history text about the richness & complexity that would've been encountered in such a town.
Like The Name of the Rose this film takes its mystery seriously & it really is a mystery tale rather than an excuse for shooting arrows from castle walls.
Wandering actors' knowledge of forensics was far-fetched, & the revelation of the true villain was not particularly clever or thrilling. The film might've been more captivating by focusing more on the daily functioning of an itinerant theater troupe & less on the structure of a modern genre detective novel. I mean, if there is any historical basis for the assumption of such improvisational acting in medieval times, that would've been much more fascinating than a commonplace murder. But I never quite believed either in this early history of improvisation or forensic science.
The film strives to be intelligent & well-acted, & it certainly has moments of strength, like the visit to the mute woman's horrid cell. But in the final analysis The Reckoning never quite rises above being the low-budget version of Name of the Rose, as though made for Public Television on the cheap. Still, that just might be sufficient to make it worth viewing, given how few opportunities there are to see a serious-minded film of the 13th Century.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl