'Last Knights': Film Review

Last Knights Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Lionsgate

Last Knights Still - H 2015

Not even the talented cast can rescue this oppressively dull period epic

Clive Owen and Morgan Freeman headline an international cast in this sword-clashing tale of revenge and honor.

"Only time will tell how we're remembered," intones Clive Owen in the new sword-clanging revenge epic in which he gets all medieval on our asses. Unfortunately, time—hell, not even the present—is likely to be kind to this misbegotten film which squanders the talents of not only Owen, enjoying a career resurgence thanks to his acclaimed turn in Cinemax's The Knick, but also Morgan Freeman. The latter—spoiler alert—at least manages to exit the proceedings fairly early on. Filmed several years ago but only now getting a limited release in theaters and on VOD, Last Knights should have been left moldering on the shelf.

Owen plays Raiden, as a warrior "of peasant stock" who was orphaned as a young boy. His father figure is his master, Bartok (Freeman), who makes an impassioned and brave stand against the unnamed country's oppressive emperor (Payman Maadi). When Bartok refuses to kowtow to his sadistic henchman Geza Mott (an arresting Aksel Hennie, of Headhunters), he's promptly taken prisoner. Ordered to kill his venerable master, his loyal follower at first refuses, but eventually follows Bartok's self-sacrificial instruction to do the deadly deed.

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Cue the resulting violent mayhem, as Raiden vows revenge, enlisting his fellow knights, including his chief cohort (Cliff Curtis), in an elaborate siege of the emperor's castle, complete with an Apocalypse Now-style ominous rising of heads from water, but not before engaging in endless speechifying about "honor."

Directed by Japanese filmmaker Kazuaki Kiriya (Casshern, Goemon), this international production features the sort of polyglot cast designed to appeal to as many territories as possible. Besides the British Owen and American Freeman, there are actors of Norwegian (Hennie), New Zealand (Curtis), Iranian (Maadi and Shohreh Ashdashloo, the latter wasted), Israeli (Ayelet Zurer) and South Korean (Sung Ki Ahn) descent. It's a veritable Middle Ages melting pot.

Neither the dramatic nor action elements are remotely compelling, with the nearly two-hour running time feeling interminable. Freeman briefly anchors the proceedings with his customary gravitas, while the normally charismatic Owen is mainly reduced to either glowering or brooding, at least when he's not crossing swords.

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Photographed by Antonio Riestra (yes, we can add Mexico to the list of contributing countries, as well as the Czech Republic, where this would-be epic was filmed)—in the monochromatic hues that have become a period picture cliché, Last Knights mainly serves to whet the appetite for the upcoming season of the far superior Game of Thrones.

Production: Luka Productions, Czech Anglo Productions
Cast: Clive Owen, Morgan Freeman, Cliff Curtis, Aksel Hennie, Payman Maadi, Ayelet Zurer, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Sung Ki Ahn
Director: Kazuaki Kiriya
Screenwriters: Michael Konyves, Dove Sussman
Producers: Luci Kim, Kazuaki Kiriya
Executive producers: Kate Hong, Lee Jea Wook, Choi Pyung Ho, Keishi Kameyama, Hiroshi Matsumura, Kang Yeong Shin, Andrew Mann, Jim Thompson, Young Kook Bea, Russell Levine, Chip Diggins, Jay Stern, Barry Brooker, Stan Wertlieb, Nick Thurlow, Gary Hamilton
Director of photography: Antonio Riestra
Production designer: Ricky Eyres
Editor: Mark Sanger
Costume designer: Tina Kalivas
Composers: Martin Tillmann, Satnam Ramgotra
Casting: Tricia Wood, Deborah Aquila, Jennifer Smith

Rated R, 115 minutes