Right out of the gate in this fourteenth-century medieval action saga, a jousting match heats up and the crowd roars its approval while lip-syncing to Queen's "We Will Rock You." Holy anachronisms! If using classic rock to screw with chronology doesn't drive you bugfuck (and if it does, God help you at Moulin Rouge), you should lap up this merry mischief from writer-director Brian Helgeland. An Oscar winner for the screenplay for L.A. Confidential and a battle-scarred veteran of tailoring scripts for such star egos as Stallone (Assassins), Costner (The Postman) and Gibson (Conspiracy Theory), Helgeland is working loose, low-budget and star-free this time. Lucky him. Lucky us. Helgeland's 1999 directorial debut, Payback, had him jousting with leading man Gibson. Gibson won. Heath Ledger, the twenty-two-year-old Aussie who plays William Thatcher, the commoner who tries to pass for a knight, isn't a star. Yet. And though Helgeland deploys Ledger's looks and charm to solid effect, he doesn't let him hog the show. Mark Addy and Alan Tudyk score laughs as William's loyal pals. Shannyn Sossamon makes a feisty lady fair. And Paul Bettany gives the film's best performance as Geoff Chaucer, the extroverted writer who warms up the crowd for William against the villain (Rufus Sewell). Rumor hath it that Helgeland picked jousting so he could knock a bully (a metaphorical Mel?) off his high horse. More likely, he's just having fun with the frenzy behind spectator sports through the ages. Either way, you're left with something to chew on. It's a dumb summer movie done with smarts. What'll they think of next.
From The Archives Issue 870: June 7, 2001