Able to escape its budgetary constraints, this Medieval-set adaptation of the classic tale of the Forty-seven Ronin struggles to similarly escape the constraints of its script.Anybody familiar with their 18th Century Japanese history will probably have a better bet what is going to happen in Last Knights than they would have done in the rather less faithful Keanu Reeves adaptation 47 Ronin, with Clive Owen’s warrior commander in self-imposed exile after his master, a rather tired Morgan Freeman, is punished for refusing to pay tribute to his corrupt superiors. It’s an interesting development – seeing Owen’s fallen soldier selling his soul to pay for increasingly damaging alcohol problems as the corrupt officials watch his every move, expecting him to rise as some kind of avenging angel – but it would have worked in better hands and with a bigger budget. Instead, after a briefly diverting initial bout of swordplay, and some ostensibly meaningful words between the master and his most trusted commander, we sink into an almost inescapable quagmire of tedious monotony reflective of Owen’s character’s own increasingly drunken stupors. Where could this possibly be leading?!By the time things kick off in the third act, your patience has long since dissipated, and even a fairly competently handled stealth assault against a seemingly impregnable fortress, can’t make for a satisfying climax. Owen maintains his commitment to the project (despite the fact that it often makes his messy King Arthur look like Ridley Scott’s Gladiator), but Freeman looks like he has one foot in the grave, whilst the villains do little to lend weight to the piece and the oddly multi-cultural characters (cast to appeal to foreign markets despite any damage done to even the slightest sense of authenticity) struggle to stand out in this alien environment. The samurai code is underplayed; Owen’s solo fall from grace doesn’t make anywhere near as much sense as the group commitment from the original tale, and the action setpieces are entertaining but don’t have any character or weight behind them. It’s watchable fare, for those who make it past the flabby midsection, but you can see why this was buried in post-production for years.
The UK Region B-locked Blu-ray includes a solid 1080p/24 AVC-encoded presentation framed in its original aspect ratio of 2.40:1 widescreen.
Digitally shot, there's little to complain about in the presentation, which - coupled with the look of the piece - is probably one of the bigger contributors towards the bigger-budget-than-it-looks impression that the movie makes. Snowy landscapes provide a near-monochromatic backdrop to the weary visages of the lead characters, whilst interiors are painted in rich browns and golden sepias. Detail remains impressive, for the most part, with only some of the low-lit sequences struggling to keep up the same level of clarity, and only the CG'd elements taking on any noticeable softness. For the most part, it does the job, and there are plenty of lovely broader setpieces, shot with style and captured imaginatively although there are enough discrepancies and failings to leave this struggling to achieve a demo rating. Fans shouldn't be disappointed - it's a solid effort; it may be far from perfect but it's likely a hell of a lot better than anybody expected for this budget.
The Blu-ray's DTS-HD MA 5.1 track does a solid job too, notwithstanding the limited material on offer.
Bookended by some boisterous action set-pieces, where arrows fly, swords clash, and even a few explosions (?!) erupt, the rest of the proceedings are decidedly low-key, and Last Knights struggles to provide anything particularly atmospheric to keep the surrounds engaged and the ambience noteworthy. Dialogue remains clear and coherent throughout, and takes precedence over the front and centre channels where appropriate, whilst effects, as aforementioned, struggle to really make their mark beyond the key action scenes which remain at each end of a surprisingly long running time. Again, it's a solid offering considering the merits of the material - fans should be happy with the more engaging flourishes and expect little more from the rest.
ExtrasThere's nothing in the way of extras, although at least the steelbook is a decent effort; a cold steely grey - matte unfortunately - with near monochromatic images front and back which flip out, Lucy-style, to make for a bigger picture. Sporting Owen on the front and Freeman on the back, the art makes more of an impression than any of the movie's posters have, although that's not that hard. Still, for a low budget movie like this, which is surely going to have a very limited appeal - in spite of its star power - this is probably a much nicer package than anybody could have expected.
Blu-ray Steelbook VerdictAt best, Last Knights is in the vein of a couple of engaging Game of Thrones episodes strewn together into a movie-length tale. But Game of Thrones would be nothing without the character development before and after. Last Knights hasn’t got any of that, instead throwing us into a tale which is somewhat familiar (from the famous historical event, the revenge of the Forty-seven Ronin) only in an unfamiliar setting. They could have actually made this work, if they had a bigger budget, less flabby script and tighter direction, but that’s a lot of ‘ifs’, leaving what’s left to rest on the weary shoulders of veterans Clive Owen and Morgan Freeman, who simply deserve better.
Last Knights looks better than a DTV film, but the pacing of a TV movie, leaving it struggling to feel any better than that.
Oddly this UK Region B-locked release, whilst coming in a nifty Steelbook package, doesn't sport any of the extras that adorned its US counterpart. That's probably not going to be a deal-breaker for fans, but it's a shame (after debacle of Predestination) that there isn't more consistency but at least we get the correct aspect ratio. Those otherwise intrigued should test the waters with a rental, or maybe even wait and Netflix it. There's a good reason the film was buried for several years.
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