Film

 The Reckoning
Directed by Paul McGuigan
Paramount Classics, opens March 5

This life simply has to be harsh, to prevent earthly life being loved," declares cleric-turned-thespian Nicholas (Paul Bettany), addressing his flock in a flashback. Loving a congregant's earthly wife a little too well, our priest hotfoots it into the outer dark of plague-blasted 1380s England. After Timeline's jump to 1357 and Bettany's 14th-century plunge (as "Geoff" Chaucer) in A Knight's Tale, viewers may have little incentive to revisit that period; The Reckoning, for better or worse, is a far more sober take. A nearly anthropological look at the life of traveling actors goes head to cowled head with a murder-mystery storyline, and the result plays like a Law & Order derivative crossed with History Channel mise-en-scène.

Nicholas falls in with the troupe, whose first stop is a town ruled by the shadowy, Norman-blooded Lord de Guise (Vincent Cassel). They witness a woman being sentenced for a young boy's murder, which gives their leader, Martin (Willem Dafoe), inspiration to write his own tragedy. The work's nonreligious derivation infuriates Tobias (Brian Cox), who relishes his traditional devil roles. There are some guilty creatures standing at the play; rumor and a bit of grave robbing convince Nicholas that the woman is innocent and a serial killer is afoot. The Reckoning is emphatically acted, ponderous, and ultimately a little silly, as when Dafoe limbers up with some spectacular back-bends, or Cassel engages Bettany in a distended theological debate that has "Wot kind of God eez zat?" as its central stumper. —Ed Park

Middle Ages crisis: Bettany
photo: Stephen Vaughn
Middle Ages crisis: Bettany


Twisted
Directed by Philip Kaufman
Paramount, in release

Starting a new job can be so stressful. Good thing newly appointed homicide inspector Ashley Judd knows all the useful coping techinques: drinking, flipping through her backstory-filled memento box, drinking some more, sleeping with strangers/co-workers/defense attorneys, and passing out. She picks up, so to speak, her first case, a string of murders. Problem is, she's slept with all the victims, and their deaths coincide with her blackouts. Obviously, Judd's the primary suspect in this sordid case (for starters, she can't even play drunk convincingly), but she's aided and abetted by an avuncular commish (Samuel L. Jackson, on an off-day) and a smarmy partner (Andy Garcia, his range reduced to two volume settings: smooth-daddy soft and rage-filled scream). Still, others should be at least brought downtown for questioning, like director Kaufman and newbie screenwriter Sarah Thorp, for colluding in a suspense thriller without thrills or suspense. Mitigating circumstance Camryn Mannheim's wry forensics expert has watched too much CSI and Law & Order. No mystery here: Twisted is D.O.A. —Jorge Morales

 
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