Written by: Mark Mills
Starring: Paul Bettany, Willem Dafoe, Tom Hardy, Gina McKee, Brian Cox
Of the many benefits of art, being the vehicle of criticism for those in power has remained one of its greatest uses. Whether through satire or dramatic retelling, power lies in artistic expression to speak up when others cannot. The Reckoning expounds on that as it gathers an acting troupe with an unexpected addition as they come across a situation they did not prepare themselves for.
After leaving his life as a priest following a sexual incident with a woman, Nicholas (Paul Bettany) remains on the run and finds refuge with a traveling acting troupe led by Martin (Willem Dafoe). As they try to raise some funds, they come across this village where they witness a woman convicted of killing a young boy but after looking into it they start to figure the situation may not be as clear cut as it seems.
Believability in light of allegations always leans towards those in power. It remains true today and most certainly in 1380s England where this feature takes place. You have a mute woman with no sense of real motivation for killing a young boy somehow convicted when everything surrounding the situation feels incredibly off, which provides to be true. That raises the question of why this woman would receive this accusation and who truly bears the responsibility for what transpired. In a sense, it becomes comical that this troupe of actors essentially becomes the detectives uncovering the truth. Brings a feeling of Scooby-Do where the villain says “I would’ve gotten away with it too if it weren’t for you meddling kids” but instead a group of traveling actors.
With all of that said, this narrative becomes about redemption for Nicholas. Someone deemed to have abandoned his duty as a priest by engaging in sexual activity with a woman and he carries this guilt with him. He has lost everything he believed he could be and this unfortunate situation provides the opportunity to rectify his circumstance either with himself or his creator. It explains his tenacity in getting to the truth of the matter and why he simply refuses to let it go when he and these actors do not reside in the town or know any of the context. The scenes where they attempt to uncover the hidden truths make for some good scenes, but the very best emerges from the reenactments from the play which allows these actors to shine.
The climax of this feature truly raises the bar of everything happening before and after as it works in the very thesis of the film with the element most dear to it, the use of art. It allows for Paul Bettany to shine at his very best in this feature as he seeks to get redemption for this character and the crimes he has committed through his immoral actions. Truly the defining moment of the story and even when other aspects start to falter it jolts everything right into place in such an entertaining and powerful manner.
Assembling the cast showed some in their prime with others at the very start of it but when looking through it in modern eyes, the group put together for this film impresses. The two leading men Dafoe and Bettany do what they do best. However, throughout the cast, you also have a young Tom Hardy, Ewen Bremmer, Matthew Macfadyen, Brian Cox, and even a delightfully evil Vincent Cassel in a role he knows how to portray very well. While it cannot be said each of these men got a moment to shine, they all add to what this feature wants to present with the different personalities dictating the actions of the story and what results in a fiery conclusion.
The Reckoning accomplishes everything it needs to in telling an entertaining story with just enough intrigue to keep things going even if it slows down in moments. Everything builds in the investigation to get to the truth of the matter all leading up to the uproarious climax and the finale continually surprising in the depths it will go to. Very much an underrecognized feature with some startlingly great star power and a well-crafted story aiming to satisfy our medieval itches and wholly satisfying it.