Well, in some other movie Clive Owen would’ve made a really great King Arthur. And he’s definitely very watchable here as the lead in the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced King Arthur. But this project basically feels like a Gladiator meets Tears of the Sun retread, and, aside from the characters’ names, it has very little to do with the Arthurian legend. I’d say the film’s probably better than you’ve heard, but still somewhat disappointing. Workmanlike, but ultimately rather drab.
I must say, I really can’t get my mind around the current trend in epic movie-making. After the wild success of PJ’s LotR, it should be a no-brainer: You can’t tell The Iliad without the gods, and you can’t do justice to the story of King Arthur without sorcerers, enchantments, love triangles or the Holy Grail. Demystify the legend and you end up with…well, I guess you end up with what you have here, which is a lot of grunting and flying arrows and bad hair days along Hadrian’s Wall. Admittedly, I liked the realistic take of a film like The Alamo, but it just seems unnecessary here (particularly when the “realism” portrayed involves 5th century Abu Ghreibs and an Arthur who’s a good 1000 years ahead of the times on the political philosophy front.)
As I said, Clive Owen is pretty solid, though, and he helps his case here as the next James Bond. Keira Knightley is passable given the material, although every time I see her now I can’t help but think of Winona Ryder and a quote by Bilbo Baggins (“I feel thin — sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”) Ioan Gruffudd’s performance as Lancelot was also derailed by my terminal fanboyisms, as I spent most of his screentime trying — and failing — to remove his facial hair and picture him as Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic. And the rest of the knights? Well, they’re a dirty, ragged bunch, but Ray Winstone (of Sexy Beast) and Ray Stevenson stand out as Sir Bors and Sir Deadduck respectively. Mention must also be made of a Tom Waits-voiced Stellan Skarsgard as the Saxon Big Bad, who gets off a quality zinger about Anglo-Saxon interbreeding, and who is the only person who seems to be having any fun in this project.
All in all, I suppose this movie is solid enough if you’re looking for a decently well-done entry in the long line of period war movies we’ve had of late. But, if your thoughts on King Arthur run towards Camelot, the Lady in the Lake, Morgan le Fey, or even the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, you might want to wait for the next iteration of the story (or just go rent Excalibur.)