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The Reckoning
2004 - R - 110 Mins.
Director: Paul McGuigan
Producer: Stephen Evans, Angus Finney
Written By: Mark Mills
Starring: Paul Bettany, Willem Dafoe, Brian Cox, Vincent Cassel, Gina McKee
Review by: Joe Rickey

Paparazzi, be gone with you.
An altogether smart murder mystery that just so happens to take place in the 14th century, ‘The Reckoning’ nonetheless fails to be a total and complete success because of an ending that could charitably be termed lackluster; derailing what had been a perfectly decent little film that happens to have a cast of Hollywood veterans on its side, with the likes of Willem Dafoe, Paul Bettany, Brian Cox, and Vincent Cassel making appearances.

The setting, if anything, is relatively unique to the murder mystery genre. The place is England and the time is 1380. England is going through tough times as the ubiquitous Black Plague rages; tearing through the towns and countryside making mincemeat of both the vagabonds and the wealthy aristocrats they happen across. It is then that former monk turned fugitive (Paul Bettany) is on the run. You see, he was caught, shall we say, making “it” happen with a parishioner’s wife.

It is not long before he comes upon a traveling acting troupe. He takes up with the actors. They arrive at the next town where they are to perform just as a local lady is about to be put to death for murdering a young man, also a local. They jump at the chance to put on a play mimicking the circumstances and events surrounding the murder. Upon doing so, they uncover things that just don’t seem right; leading them to believe that the young man was murdered by an unknown assailant and the woman framed.

A film like ‘The Reckoning’ only works if the acting is up to par because a film such as this is inherently character, therefore, performance driven. Thankfully, the acting goes above and beyond. In the lead, Bettany gives a solid performance, one that hints at the less than peachy past of his character without bringing unneeded histrionics into the picture. As the leader of the acting troupe, Willem Dafoe is his usual magnetic self as the showman/marketer for his band of performers. Brian Cox once again ably brings gravitas to his role as another member of the acting troupe.

Director Paul McGuigan lends the film a very subdued color palette; a technique that effectively illustrates the bleak and dark world that was England during the reign of the Black Plague. One actually gets the feeling that they are there; right in the midst of such terror and sickness. Needless to say, McGuigan lays the atmosphere on thick here to positive results.

Where the film ultimately lets the viewer down is in a conclusion that feels unfinished; as if the screenplay by Mark Mills was missing a rewrite or two. ‘The Reckoning’ seems to be leading the viewer up to a slam bang finale that will reveal the truth in dynamic fashion but it is not to be. Instead the viewer is left wondering what they just witnessed as they watch the credits roll, dumbfounded.

‘The Reckoning’ presents an intriguing cast of characters in an equally intriguing time period along with setting up a murder mystery that would seem to be leading to a profound revelation but ends up leading down a road to nowhere.

Movie Guru Rating
Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not.
  3 out of 5 stars

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