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Paramount Studios presents

The Reckoning (2004)

"Sin, in the beginning, may seem full sweet, but the reckoning comes, be you never so fleet."- Martin (Willem Dafoe)

Stars: Willem Dafoe, Paul Bettany
Other Stars: Brian Cox, Gina McKee, Tom Hardy, Vincent Cassell, Elvira Minguez
Director: Paul McGuigan

MPAA Rating: R for some sexuality and violent images
Run Time: 01h:50m:00s
Release Date: 2004-08-03
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer


DVD Review

Theater, of which cinema is an offshoot, can reveal much about humanity. Drama and stage play is as old as time itself, though our modern notions of such art forms are certainly different from those ancient productions. It is an outlet for exploring morality, adventure, and simple storytelling through entertainment. People seem to learn about truth when these essential concepts are placed in a new context, one that is divorced from a directly personal connection. The Reckoning explores the power of theater and its groundbreaking potential in a unique and fresh way.

Nicholas (Paul Bettany) is a priest who has committed a grave sin. He has succumbed to temptation, sleeping with another man's wife within his modest village, residing in medieval England. He flees, looking for redemption and salvation, sure his congregation will give him none. He does not betray his faith, clutching his simple crucifix with an earnest heart. By mere chance, he stumbles on a troupe of traveling performers on their way to the next town, looking for their next schilling. Their elder leader has just passed, and an opportunity has appeared. Nicholas is willing to start anew.

The performers, led by Martin (Willem Dafoe), are at first reluctant to accept their new comrade in drama. Their repertoire is limited to Biblical stories, for those are the only stories deemed by God to be permissible. Their many bit parts, such as demons and various minor figures must be filled, and Martin decides to take the young priest into the fold, despite the objections of traditionalist Tobias (Brian Cox), and his cohorts. Sarah (Gina McKee), the one woman in the troupe, grows connected to Nicholas, though she is pushed into the background of the male-dominated culture. They are clearly unwilling to replace their steadfast, deceased friend with such ease; until their friend receives a proper burial on Holy Ground, they will not be at peace with Nicholas.

The young priest obliges upon reaching their destination, performing the burial ceremony they cannot afford. The town in which they arrive seems less interested in their Biblical stories, and more engrossed in a recent murder. A young boy has been strangled, and a deaf, mute woman named Martha (Elvira Minguez), convicted of the crime. Martin gets a revolutionary idea: stage a play based on the account of the murder, the facts of which are shady at best. The troupe plays Middle Age detectives, talking to townspeople regarding the case, and even the convicted woman herself, who states through mime she is innocent. Nicholas believes her; she could not have inflicted the injuries sustained by the boy.

This is another little-seen film that deserves a second look. There are some engaging concepts here, a kind of medieval Law & Order that does not become too case-centered. There are conflicted, interesting characters involved. Bettany is a fine choice for the lead, showing conflict, fallacy, and faith in a very human character. Dafoe is a simpler man who finds himself caught up in extraordinary circumstances. His Scottish accent appears and re-appears throughout—he would have been better off dropping it. Brian Cox takes the role of the cranky traditionalist, who is simply appalled at the idea that there will be plays performed based on real events. To him, this is a sacrilegious notion that will bring nothing but pain. This situation is rife with conflict.

The director seems to have a background in commercials. His visuals have a very expressive, subjective feel, first revealed in an impressive, immersing opening sequence that sets up the priest's plight in a few short minutes. He utilizes wide angle lenses and time manipulation to give the images an energy and surrealism that becomes quite effective. At times, the camera seems unsure where to point, but the impressive production design makes it hard to find a bad backdrop. At certain points, this tale loses momentum, but Dafoe and Bettany manage to keep it alive. The metaphorical and literal aspects of truth through drama combine to form an engaging story that can get a bit far-fetched at times, but still worth enduring.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Paramount's anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer is well-rendered, but shows a fair amount of fine grain that appears to be a source issue. Colors are appropriately muted and contrast is good, showing rich blacks. Detail is high throughout, showing off the impressive sets and costumes. This is a dismal looking world, and the image speaks to this vision.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby 5.1 mix is quite lackluster. The presentation is very front heavy, with some stereo separation. Surround activity is very minimal, utilized for some ambient fill and the occasionally discrete sounds of village workers. Dialogue is audible, but seems somewhat muffled and undermixed at times. Not as crisp or dynamic as it could be, even for a dialogue-driven film.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 14 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, The United States of Leland, Love Me If You Dare, Northfork, And Now Ladies and Gentlemen
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: The only extras are a slew of trailers for the titles listed above. Chaptering is minimal.

Extras Grade: D

Final Comments

The power of theater is explored in a unique, medieval detective story. Paul Bettany and Willem Dafoe keep the ambitious plot afloat. Paramount's disc contains solid a/v quality, but is barebones.

Matt Peterson 2004-08-01