Academy Award nominee Clive Owen (Best Supporting Actor, Closer, 2004) delivers an electrifying performance as a fallen warrior who rises against a corrupt and sadistic ruler to avenge his dishonored master, Academy Award winner Morgan Freeman (Best Supporting Actor, Million Dollar Baby, 2004), in this epic, sword-clashing adventure of loyalty, honor and vengeance.
"We have planned, we have sacrificed, we have waited for the right moment and now we will restore the voice of our people."
Medieval fantasy movies are all the rage at the moment, in large part due to the ever increasing popularity of 'Game of Thrones.' When you have one success, it spawns a million imitators, this is to be expected. It's like when some pizza joint comes up with a new flavored crust, everyone comes up with their own new take on old material. Sometimes it works, sometimes it's an absolute train wreck. Then you have a movie like 'Last Knights' that barrows a piece of recorded history and casts it into a world that reflects the Feudal systems of old. Something new, something old, but still a lot of fun.
Commander Raiden (Clive Owen) is a man that has earned the absolute dedication and respect of his men through years of service and honorable deeds. He owes elegance to the head of their clan, Lord Bartok (Morgan Freeman) who is aging, ill, and exhausted from seeing other noblemen like himself forced to pay tribute to a man who doesn't deserve that level of respect. Gezza Mot (Aksel Hennie) is that man - who also happens to sit beside the Emperor (Peyman Moaadi) and holds sway over the leader's judgement. As Gezza Mot sets to construct the most secure palace to "protect the emperor" he is also taxing the nobles and therefor their citizens to the brink of starvation and ruin. Only Lord Bartok speaks his mind and defies Gezza Mot's tyranny.
Found guilty of treason, Bartok is sentenced to death by the Emperor. Under the suggestion of Mot, his executioner is to be Raiden. If Raiden doesn't kill his master not only will he and his men be put to death, but Lord Bartok's family will be forced into a life of slavery. At first he refuses, but under his master's urging - he performs this deed. With his honor and pride shattered Raiden drifts into a life of becoming a slobbering drunk as his men have been stripped of their ranks and cast out.
Not believing a man of Raiden's rank and pride to be so easily broken, Mot commands the leader of his private army Ito (Tsuyoshi Ihara) to follow Raiden and his men. If they dare to plot any form of revenge it would be deemed an act of insurrection against the Emperor and all would be put to death. As time passes Raiden remains a drunkard alienating his wife while his men find new work as blacksmiths and dock workers. While they appear to have moved on, in secrete they meet under the leadership of Lt. Cortez (Cliff Curtis) to plot their revenge. They infiltrate the castle as workers and groundskeepers recording every last detail, noting the weaknesses, and biding their time until it's the right moment to strike.
If this story starts to sounds at all familiar, that's because in a nutshell it's '47 Ronan' set in a fantasy land with knights instead of samurai and a much more diverse and international cast. Does it work? At first, no - it's beginning is very clumsy at setting up the world we're seeing. However, when the plot kicks in and Morgan Freeman's character Lord Bartok is betrayed and Raiden must pretend to have sold his soul to shame, the movie switches gears and becomes a very entertaining and satisfying revenge thriller. Directed by Kazuaki Kiriya from a script by Michael Knoyves and Dove Sussman, the film while not completely successful, is taut enough to hold the audience's interest, keep you guessing, and features some wildly entertaining sword battles. It wisely takes its time, lets its plot develop and holds some surprises to the very last minute to keep things fun.
As 'Last Knights' starts to unfold and one begins to take stock of the cast; at first this wide range of diversity of screen can seem a tad silly - but then it all of a sudden starts to feel natural and make sense from the point of view that this really is a fantasy film and not in the least bit historically accurate. I think my surprise about this coms from the fact that so much of 'Last Knights' maintains the look and feel of Clive Owen's earlier outing in 'King Arthur' that I felt like this movie could have been a sequel to that film.
Overall the cast is strong here. Where it could seem like a number of people starring in this film are in it for a quick pay check, they're actually very committed. Morgan Freeman initially was an odd choice but once his character gets rolling and you start to see his motivations unfold, it makes more sense and he provides a much needed weight to the dramatics. Aksel Hennie is a real stand out as Gezza Mot - he just has a knack for playing a wormy power hungry tyrant who is driven insane by his own obsessions. Then you have Clive Owen, the man's always does his best and here he's in fine form. The guy can play to themes of honor and respect and deliver a rousing speech with the best of them. It's always stumped me that he's never really become a big leading man, but at the same time, smaller movies like these often give the guy a meatier role to chew on.
'Last Knights' may not be the greatest movie ever made, but it was thoroughly entertaining. When I first saw a trailer for this movie, I probably laughed a bit more than I should have. It just looked silly, so when I sat down to watch this one, I was ready to either be completely bored or rolling on the floor. Amazingly, neither happened. Once the film gots going and allowed its quieter moments to fill the screen and let the revenge plot unfold - the movie proved to be a fun way to spend two hours. Ironically enough, 'Last Knights' also manages to be more historically accurate than '47 Ronin' on a number of points! I don't see everyone liking this one, it does take a stretching of some suspension of disbelief, but for those capable of such a task, I think they'll have a good time of it.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Last Knights' arrives on Blu-ray thanks to Lionsgate and pressed on a Region A locked BD50 disc. Housed in a standard case with slip cover, the disc opens to a string of trailers for other Lionsgate Blu-ray releases before reaching the animated main menu. The disc also comes with a Digital HD Ultraviolet code.
'Last Knights' is an often stunning looking Blu-ray that's equally confounding at times. As an overall, the 2.40:1 1080p image is beautiful and pleasing, but is kicked back a notch because of stylistic color timing choices. Color, for the most part is just fine allowing for some nice pop here and there against a backdrop of muted grays and snowy whites. Where this transfer has some trouble is when the look of the film mimics so many other fantasy and post apocalyptic films of late where color grading is employed to desaturate the film to the point that it may as well be black and white. When colors aren't being tinkered with, detail and black levels can have a real vibrancy and dimensional pop to them. When colors have been stripped away, the detail levels lose their potency leaving people to look like they've been smeared with grease paint while black levels shift to being a bit to contrasty and lose their sense of depth. Thankfully there aren't too many scenes that are like that, but there are enough to be distracting. Overall this is a beautiful looking transfer that offers a lot of HD wonder, but at the same time, it's got a couple issues keeping it from being a perfect score.
With a boisterous English DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track 'Last Knights' gets all the honor and respect it deserves. Considering on the surface this film is a mindless action flick with swords flying and CGI arrows zipping around, in actuality there is a lot more quiet intrigue and plotting going on. With strong dynamic range, this track perfectly captures the action packed moments with beautiful imaging that deftly moves about the channels while also maintaining the subtle intricacies needed to make an important conversation stand out. Levels are perfectly balanced so things never go out of control. There is plenty of separation from sound elements so effects, dialogue, and the score never fight over each other.
Behind The Scenes of Last Knights Featurette: (HD 22:03) the cast and crew talk about what attracted them to the film, the fast shooting schedule, and working with swords.
A Look At The Special Effects of Last Knights: (HD 5:04) A quick before and after comparison of various effects shots.
Cast and Crew Interviews: Director Kaz I Kiriya, Morgan Freeman, Clive Owen, Cliff Curtis, Payman Maadi, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Dave Legeno, DP Antinio Riestra, talk about their various roles in the film and the production. Pretty much the best of these interviews is used in the Behind the Scenes featurette.
Trailer Gallery: (HD 9:07) A string of trailers for various Lionsgate releases.
I like it when a movie surprises me. I honestly expected 'Last Knights' to be a goofy wannabe historical action adventure film that just couldn't get a theatrical release. Thankfully I was wrong as this flick turned out to be very entertaining and is a lot better than I was made to believe that it could be. As a Blu-ray, it has a strong A/V presentation with a couple decent extras. Since I can see this only appealing to a few, I'm calling it worth a look.