Forced to push his loyalty to his clan leader Bartok (Morgan Freeman) to the edge by the corrupt ruler of their land, an idealistic young knight Raiden (Clive Owen) watches all he holds dear crumble before his eyes. With little left to believe in, Raiden withdraws from those around him and deeper into himself. It takes a drastic turn of events to bring him to his senses, questioning just how far he is willing go to defend justice and good in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.
One has to hand it to Morgan Freeman – he is nothing if not an actor of versatility. A veteran of the cinema – in a career spanning over fifty years, one hundred plus films and one Oscar win, as well as numerous other awards – the seventy seven year old American has turned his hand to almost everything the medium has to offer. From comedy to drama via horror and sci-fi / fantasy there seems to be no genre in which Morgan doesn’t appear perfectly at home. With this in mind it should hardly come as a surprise that he carries off every scene in which he appears in, in the new medieval adventure Last Knights.
This however is also unfortunate as, after his character Bartok, the authoritative and patriarchal leader of his clan, bows out of proceedings less than half way into the story, the remainder of the film struggles to live up to its initial promise. That’s not to say that overall it isn’t entertaining – indeed it manages generally to sustain a relatively satisfying degree of boys-own, swashbuckling escapism, particularly during the film’s latter stages. However, Freeman aside, there are simply too few characters – Owen’s central protagonist included – who elicit enough personality and feeling to make the viewer care about the film’s outcome.
Which, as already stated, is disappointing for a film with potentially so much in its favour. Initially convoluted storyline aside – after a feeling of confusion at the outset as to the direction of proceedings, things eventually settle down, following a reasonably basic and straightforward premise – the look and feel of Last Knights captures wonderfully the brooding griminess of a harsh and bitter medieval era, controlled by an authentically envisioned tyrannical feudal system where life is cheap and the power of the ruling classes is absolute. Any lack of experience on the part of Japanese filmmaker Kazuaki Kiriya – Last Knights is only his third film as director and his first major American production – certainly doesn’t show on screen: his clever combination of athletic martial arts and medieval swashbuckling is never anything less than entertaining, in what plays out as a ninja infused, medieval romp. Unfortunately in the end though the film falls prey to the old problem where mood and look is focused on by the filmmaker to the detriment of any real soul and characterisation which might warrant more than mere superficial interest from the viewer.
Which leaves little more to say about the film. An unexpected twist is successfully kept secret until the end, whilst a pervading air of competence throughout culminates in some surprisingly engaging action sequences. Unfortunately these elements are not enough to save an end result that adds little in the way of fresh ideas to a genre which offers limited opportunity for originality.