- April 3, 2015
- Kazuaki Kiriya
- Clive Owen
- Morgan Freeman
- Cliff Curtis
- Aksel Hennie
- Dave Legeno
- Ayelet Zurer
- Shohreh Aghdashloo
- Ahn Sung-ki
- Tsuyoshi Ihara
- Park Si-yeon
- Giogio Caputo
- James Babson
- Peyman Moaadi
A campy, almost-epic multicultural mash-up.
A Japanese director, a Korean co-production and crew, Czech Republic locations, and an English-speaking cast from around the globe. The 2015 period sword epic ‘Last Knights’ was born of classic sword/shield camp but adds just enough surprise and well-staged action glory to rise above the muck.
In a nondescript land and an undefined era, the land of ‘Last Knights’ borrows heavily from both Medieval Europe kings/castles and Middle/Far East emperor/samurai settings. A global potpourri of noble warrior, code of honor cheese. It works, in that mythological “Highlander” kinda way.
Commander Raiden (Clive Owen) is of a dying race of noble warrior Knights that live and die by an ancient code. He follows his Lord Bartok’s (Morgan Freeman) rule without compromise, nor descent.
Bartok is summoned to the capital to pay tribute to rising imperial minister Gezza mott (Aksel Hennie). Uncomfortable with these ever-increasing “bribes” Bartok, knowing that his time is soon to pass, entrusts his lands to his adopted son Raiden.
Upon arrival Bartok resist’s Gezza mott’s tyranny, forcing the Emperor (Peyman Moaadi) to make a harsh example of Bartok. Now left adrift without purpose and without a homeland, Raidan is seemingly lost to his long past sins of drunkenness and despair.
Raiden’s Second, Lt. Cortez (Cliff Curtis), conspires with fellow Bartok knights to find justice for his master while a wallowing in self-pity Raiden is shadowed by Gezza mott’s noble commander Ito (Tsuyoshi Ihara). Gezza mott believes Raiden will someday rise to avenge his fallen master and has grown increasingly paranoid.
‘Last Knights’ makes no apologies for its cliché ridden story nor its embrace of all things camp. From the hackneyed opening voice-over (by narrator extraordinaire Freeman) through the over-romanticized and corny musical score this film never flinches from its origins. Taking elements from virtually every wronged warrior/samurai/knight film ever and blending them together on purée.
At nearly two hours, we get around 30 minutes too much character “development”. For an action/adventure film the action is noticeably sparse. But, stick with it. A little past the halfway point things take a dramatic (and somewhat surprising) turn and we finally get the sword-fighting epic promised by this story’s over-long set-up.
In the hands of lesser thespians the heavy-handed dialog would merely elicit laughter. However, Clive Owen without nary a grin nor smirk keeps things distinctly grounded and sincere. Raiden is a tragic hero at Shakespearean levels.
Morgan Freeman has built an under the radar side career out of these cornball films and is perfectly at home. Even at this film’s most cringe-worthy, Freeman never disappoints.
Norwegian Aksel Hennie’s villainous turn as “Gezza mott” is classic, archetypal Big Bad fare. A greedy, power-hungry weasel who hides behind an army of sell-swords to protect his corrupting and malicious influence. Hell, he even beats his beautiful, waif of a wife.
The remaining cast provides decent, ever-serious support. Standing out of the mire is Cliff Curtis’s always loyal “Lt. Cortez” and Tsuyoshi Ihara’s just as ignoble and highly formidable adversary “Ito”.
Peyamn Moaadi, however, is woefully miscast as the “Emperor”. Somehow we are meant to see this man as a leader of a nation. Yet, he comes off as a weak, easily manipulated pawn of much stronger men.
Special recognition to Ayelet Zurer (‘Angels and Demons’) who briefly appears as Raiden’s much-suffering wife “Naomi”. Another actor worthy of so-much more. Still, we benefit greatly from her small contribution.
The direction is standard fare through most of the quieter moments. Only in the exciting back-half does Kazuaki Kiriya’s Japanese action roots show through.
The production waivers between high-caliber and lower-budget indie. The Czech Republic locales offer grand vistas and perfect castle settings, the costuming and production design is big and bold. However, many of the wide shots employ sub-par “300”-styled CGI mattes/backdrops.
Enter with lowered expectations and you might just leave with a cheesy smile. ‘Last Knights’ never tries to be more than it is. A great cast and brutal, stylized action wrapped up in a clichéd wronged-warrior vengeance sword epic wannabe.
Aspect Ratio: 2.35 : 1
MPAA Rating: R
Length: 115 minutes