Published Mar 01, 2004The Reckoning revives the Middle Ages murder mystery genre, last seen in The Name of the Rose, exploring issues of corruption and complicity in church and state alike.
Priest Nicholas (Paul Bettany) sheds his clerical garb and goes on the lam after being caught with his pants down in the arms of a parishioner's wife. He hooks up with a band of actors led by Martin (Willem Dafoe) who are travelling the countryside performing their staid Biblical plays. They stumble upon a village reeling from the mysterious disappearance and subsequent death of a young boy and soon begin to realise that an innocent woman is going to be hung for the crime. They decide to perform a play based on the events, and solve the crime in the process.
Based on Barry Unsworth's novel Morality Play, the film has some decent ideas behind it. It clearly is eager to expose the seedy underbelly of the disintegrating 14th century feudal system and the detrimental silence of the church, as well as celebrate the role of the artist as a tool for truth telling and social change. Unfortunately, the film chooses to do this in a most heavy-handed and obvious way, with awkward dialogue, cheesy speeches about the power of theatre, and a "mystery" that is in no way mysterious. The climax is all exposition, coming across like the last five minutes of any Murder, She Wrote episode mixed with some ponderous philosophising about the nature of God, which makes for an ending that seems to go on forever.
At least the acting is skilled, with the always interesting Willem Dafoe who, despite a wandering accent, makes the film more watchable, and the compelling Paul Bettany in a long-overdue leading role. (Mongrel Media)