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 idea of what is going to happen in Last Knights than they would have done in the rather less faithful Keanu Reeves adaptation 47 Ronin. Clive Owen plays a 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 better in more talented 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, packed to the brim with a private army’s worth of soldiers, can’t make for a satisfying climax because you’ve already long lost interest.
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 to have 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.
Last Knights might have fared better as a TV movie; it doesn't have the pacing or imagination of anything bigger.
At 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, and 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 ‘is’, leaving what’s left to rest on the weary shoulders of veterans Clive Owen and Morgan Freeman, who simply deserve better.
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