“The code was simple: Possess an absolute devotion to one’s Master.”
Last Knights is Japanese director, Kazuaki Kiriya’s third feature film, but his first one with well known Hollywood actors. What he attempts to do here is blend the familiar story of the 47 Ronin and adapt it to the Medieval world of knights. Why would you want to trade samurai soldiers for knights? I have no idea because it actually doesn’t work. You have these men living by a code of honor similar to the samurai, but there is nothing fresh or unique about the idea because the entire story becomes completely predictable and generic. During this feudal world, Captain Raiden (Clive Owen) is completely devoted to serving the house of Bartok (Morgan Freeman), his wealthy and caring Master. Second in command is another loyal knight, Lt. Cortez (Cliff Curtis). These knights live by a strong code of honor and respect for their Master, but when Bartok is dishonored by the Emperor’s corrupt advisor, Gezza Mott (Aksel Hennie), the knights are dismantled. Will the knights be able to rise again and avenge their Master or will they fall into despair and go back to their old ways? If you’ve seen any samurai movie you probably know what to expect.
The greatest issue I had with Last Knights is its lack of originality. We’ve seen the film played out many times before and that makes the pacing of the film feel incredibly tedious because we know what is going to happen next. Kiriya tries to take his time establishing the setting and building the characters, but since we’ve seen this world before it doesn’t do anything for the audience. Clive Owen is a fine actor, but he’s even played this role before in King Arthur, a knight who is completely devoted to the cause. Morgan Freeman is one of those actors who you could close your eyes just to hear him speak and that is basically why he’s in this, to narrate the introduction of the film and set the premise. Last Knights can easily be divided into three acts, the first being the introduction of each character and the injustice they must face, the second which takes up most part of the film centers on the build-up of each character, and the third part of the film and by far the most exciting is the climax where vengeance is coming. The problem is that neither the introduction or the character development manage to engage the audience and everything is taken way too seriously for us to be entertained by it.
The characters are completely one dimensional. Only Clive Owen gets to play a meaty role, but everyone else is simply playing a stereotypical character in a film like this. And even watching Owen on screen you can’t help but feel the familiarity of having seen him play this role before. The villain is perhaps the best example of how stereotypical the characters in this film are. You couldn’t have Aksel Hennie play a more evil or sadistic man than he is here: he beats his wife, abuses people, accepts bribes from other noble men, and to top things off he hurts animals. He’s also a coward who surrounds himself with thousands of guards and a heavy fortified home. That is what actually makes the final climax scene quite entertaining. The action is delivered quite well and it makes up for some of the tedious pacing during the first 80 minutes of the film. Is it enough to recommend the film? Not even close.