Director: Kazuaki Kiriya
The most interesting aspect of Last Knights is trying to parse out its influences. In the film’s first half hour there is a very distinct Gladiator feeling in so much as it follows that film’s plot almost beat for beat to the moment in which Richard Harris’s Caesar leaves this mortal coil and if you haven’t seen Gladiator yet then you’ve no one to blame but yourself. From there and maybe even a little before there is some sort of Game of Thrones-ness about proceedings, featuring what is quite possibly a bigger dickhead than the now legendary Joffrey Baratheon and a conclusion that brings to mind that show’s first season. In the climactic assault on a supposedly impenetrable fortress there is a bit of a 300 vibe with a dash of Hamlet. The problem is that all of these very enjoyable pieces of entertainment do what they do ridiculously better than Last Knights and in fact there is very little that it does well.
There is nothing much original about Last Knights except quite possibly its villain. This is not a good thing. Norwegian actor Aksel Hennie goes big as imperial minister Gezza Mott, a combination of Joaquin Phoenix’s Commodus and Joffrey. He is more revolting than either of them because he is quite a whiny pussy, happy to fuck up the lives of everyone around him but terrified of the consequences. He lacks the need to please a father as Commodus did and the sense of a little boy with too much power that made us love and hate Joffrey so damn much. This is an utter shame because Hennie is a positively fantastic actor, particularly in the thriller Headhunters with Game of Thrones actor Nicolaj Coster-Waldau.
Speaking of that masterful HBO series, for a medieval action film in 2014 the film’s production values are stunningly low. The legendary Battle of Blackwater kicks the ass of every action scene here and that’s fucking television. Not only are the battle scenes ugly, so are the sets and the color palette in which they are painted. The palace/fortress thing where most of the film is set is a combination of the hedgerows in The Shining and that throne room in Snow White and the Huntsman. It doesn’t feel real and surely most of it is a visual effect. The only element that resembles beautiful is the snow and that is sarcasm.
There is not much of a story- the inciting incident that sets Clive Owen’s Commander Raiden on a warpath drowned in liquor and probably some whores, a second act twist that could barely be called such and then the climactic assault on said “impenetrable” fortress. No one but Raiden is remotely interesting or complexly written- Morgan Freeman phones it in as Raiden’s master and so does Ayelet Zurer when playing Raiden’s wife. She is above and beyond better and has so much more to do in Netflix’s Daredevil series. The tyrannical emperor served by Gezza Mott sounds- and looks a bit like- Prince with a cold. I promise I’m not trying to joke on the Purple One- this is merely the first thing that came to mind when I heard the emperor speak. If there is anything good to say about the acting it is that the one moment I enjoyed in the film is the inciting incident, where we are witness to Clive Owen flexing those crying muscles. The sequence is layered with the only tension the film possesses.