A Knight's Tale

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A Knight's Tale

Any medieval film that opens with a crowd of tournament-goers stomping and chanting to the tune of Queen's "We Will Rock You" pretty much forfeits any claim to historical authenticity from the outset. On the other hand, it also quickly dispenses with the responsibilities of historical accuracy. Despite the presence of swords and armor, Queen's stadium-rock classic works to set the mood for screenwriter-turned-director Brian Helgeland's A Knight's Tale, which pays far more attention to the formula of the sports film, and all its attendant clichés, than any aspect of its 14th-century setting. Helgeland's game of choice just happens to exist in the past, but he treats it like other directors treat racing or boxing. Focusing on a scrappy underdog, a peasant (Heath Ledger) who feigns nobility in order to enter the tournament touring circuit, the film dutifully throws in a training montage, a slow rise to fame, several unexpected reversals of fortune, and a love interest (Shannyn Sossamon) to lift the hero's sagging spirits. There's even a long-lost father to fill out the cliché quota, and by the time Tale arrives at its all-important big-match finale, the number of characters who pump their fists and exclaim "Yes!" far outnumber those who don't. On those exceedingly silly terms, however, A Knight's Tale works just fine, showing far more heart than the average summer blockbuster for all its shopworn calculations. It doesn't hurt that Helgeland has a good sense of his own shamelessness. Rufus Sewell turns up as a villainous rival who seems to await the invention of the black cowboy hat, and rounding out Ledger's pit crew—a bunch considerably livelier than their leader—is none other than Geoffrey Chaucer (Paul Bettany). Introduced wandering nude and penniless through the countryside, he assumes the position of Ledger's hype man, a medieval Don King who later promises to turn Ledger's adventure into a story. If he means Chaucer's The Knight's Tale itself, he must refer to some long-lost early draft. To put it mildly, Helgeland's film won't make for an effective crib for Canterbury Tales students. Those in search of a stylish, good-natured, undemanding diversion that's not afraid to break out Bachman-Turner Overdrive's "Takin' Care Of Business" won't mind a bit. Others should beware of knights wearing hair gel.

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