19th Apr2015

‘Last Knights’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Clive Owen, Morgan Freeman, Aksel Hennie, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Ahn Sung-ki, Giorgio Caputo, Daniel Adegboyega, Shohreh Aghdashloo, James Babson, Brian Caspe, Cliff Curtis, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Ayelet Zurer | Written by Michael Konyves, Dove Sussman | Directed by Kazuaki Kiriya

Freeman-last-knight

Set in an age of honour and justice by the sword, Last Knights tells the story of Raiden (Owen) – a fallen warrior who must rise up against a corrupt and sadistic ruler to avenge Bartok (Freeman), his dishonoured master. Think of the film as something akin to Seven Samurai but set in the middle ages and you’ll be somewhere close.

If I’m honest, I’m not the biggest fan of historical epics – give me a down and dirty, straight to DVD schlockfest over one any day. However when said historical epic the English language debut of famed Japanese director Kazuaki Kiriya (Casshern, Goemon), I can’t help but put my prejudices aside. In the case of Last Knights I’m glad I did.

Speaking of straight-to-DVD, from the publicity materials you’d think that Last Knights actually was one! Thankfully Signature have seen fit to give this film a limited release across the UK because Kiriya’s stunningly directed film – and in particular the glorious sword-fighting set pieces – really need to be seen on the big screen. And for once in an historical epic there’s actually a real sense of epicness to a proceedings, heightened only by the grand scale in which Kiriya shoots his film. Something which I’m sure will only be helped by seeing the film in cinemas.

It might seem strange that a director from the East would be chosen to helm a movie set firmly in the traditions of Western cinema but when you see the stylistic choices Kiriya brings to the table, it’s easy to see why he was the best choice. Plus the themes ever-present throughout Last Knights echo those found in the classic samurai tales of Feudal Japan, even Clive Owen and his band of soldiers act with the same honour and code system as the characters in films by the likes of Akira Kurosawa.

Of course all heroes need a good villian and Last Knights is no different. Corrupt minister Gezza Mott, played by Norwegian actor Aksel Hennie, is your typical Shakespearian villain – it’s his corruption that starts this story, it’s his ruthlessness that drives our heroes motivation for revenge and it’s both which eventually lead to his downfall. And like many classic villains in literature, shamed by what he has done he lives his life in fear of the repercussions of his actions, haunted by his own villainy.

Despite the fantastic direction and stunning action, the film is not without its issues – mainly in the mid-film pacing. Whilst I can see, at least in terms of the story, the need for the long downward spiral of Raiden, the time spent on this portion of the plot almost lost me as a viewer. Luckily, just when I was ready to call it quits on Last Knights, the big plot reveal happens, kicking in the high-action final third of the movie which completely pays off the audiences investment in the rest of the film.

A fantastic entry into an increasingly over-crowded genre, Last Knights is in cinemas and on demand now.

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