U.S. Release Date: July 7, 2004
Distributor: Buena Vista
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Writer: David Franzoni
Producer: Jerry Bruckheimer
Composer: Hans Zimmer
Cast: Clive Owen, Keira Knightley, Ioan Gruffudd, Stellan Skarsgard, Joel Edgerton, Ray Stevenson, Mads Mikkelsen, Hugh Dancy, Stephen Dillane, Til Schweiger
Running Time: 2 hours and 10 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense battle sequences, a scene of sensuality and some language)

Slick Action with Backbone
by Lane Ford

Forgoing love triangles and Connecticut Yankees, magical wizards and congenial spots, King Arthur is a brand new, demystified Arthurian tale. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer (Pirates of the Caribbean) and director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) have mounted an invigorating take on politics, religion and manhood.

For once shown in his probable context, Arthur (Clive Owen) is cast as an enlightened servant of the Roman Empire, stationed in Britain. To gain independence, Arthur leads his knights on a risky mission to rescue a godson of the Pope who is in danger of Saxon aggression. In the process, Arthur faces the reality that religious fundamentalism has pervaded the once-enlightened intellectual scene in Rome; the Rome he has fought for is not the Rome he knew.

King Arthur comes down decidedly on the side of fighting for freedom and values by taking up arms. It moreover argues that religious fundamentalism is as vicious a philosophy as raw will to power—both are depicted in their inevitable brutality. Writer David Franzoni (Gladiator) makes Arthur and his knights' philosophy explicit: life is its own end, freedom and personal responsibility are its means.

Stylistically, King Arthur time-shares in the house that Peter Jackson built. With sweeping battle scenes, throaty cries, medieval flair, painted forest-people, the similarity is clear, but The Lord of the Rings is just more beautiful to look at. However, Arthur grounds itself in reality, with no magic tricks or dragons or elves to lean on, and thus has a comparatively richer, adult appeal.

As Arthur, Owen well underplays the drama, calling to mind classic Kirk Douglas or Burt Lancaster and with none of the tiresome brooding-anti-hero antics of today. Ioan Gruffod (TV's Horatio Hornblower) as Lancelot shows more promise than his second-banana role allows. Keira Knightley's Guinevere succeeds as a kick-arse, nymph-like heroine, as well as a plausible moral compass for Arthur. The only casting snafu is Stellan Skarsgård (Good Will Hunting) as the evil Saxon king, Cerdic, whose bearing slouches more towards mathematic rather than Machiavellian.

Camelot this ain't. King Arthur is a slick action picture with a philosophical backbone.

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