Directed By: Christopher Smith
Written By: Dario Poloni
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Sean Bean and Carice van Houten
I feel like I could copy and paste my review of Centurion here and it would pretty much express how I felt when I left an advanced screening of Black Death. This is yet another sword and sandal epic that doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to grisly and harsh realities of “back in the day” and it does so in a way that makes you think.
The story is such: A young monk is tasked to go off with a band of holy mercenaries who are off to investigate a plague-free village in the monk’s homeland. Along the way they learn some startling truths and are forever changed by them. The standout here are the performances, with Sean Bean giving a weighted performance comparable to his Boromir in Fellowship of the Ring. It’s tough not to enjoy every moment he’s on screen. Contrasting his role quite nicely is Eddie Redmayne, who plays the troubled monk Osmund. Really, everyone delivers a strong performance and for it the film is much stronger than you might guess from the trailers.
Thematically, this film is strong. It was interesting to see how the main characters placed themselves in this battle between “good” and “evil.” There’s a particularly strong moment where Ulric mercy-kills a young woman accused of witchcraft, which speaks quite well to how complicated that time period was. It was also a strong move on the filmmakers part to not take a side on the issue or attempt to force some sort of moral choice on the audience, which I appreciated by the time I was well into the third act.
I do have some gripes about the film. Namely, I’m not entirely sure I like having that epilogue tacked on at the end. Compared to the rest of the film it feels clumsy and like something that could just as easily have been given to one of the other characters as a somber voice over. In fact, just before the epilogue starts there’s a rather nice voiceover by one of the remaining soldiers which serves as a nice objective look at what happened, and wondering what the events of the film meant. If it had just been that moment and then the credits, I would have been perfectly fine with this film and would have probably given it an extra star in the rating up top.
Just like with Centurion, some of the side characters don’t get a whole lot of attention, which really detracts from their eventual demise in the film. With these films, I’m always interested in these guys and how they develop with the story. And while there weren’t any “Mickey” level performances from these side characters, I still felt myself wishing the film would stop for a few moments and give them something more. But given how tightly paced the film was, I feel like this is more of a personal gripe than a legitimate one.
Overall, I enjoyed the film and thought it presented some really interesting ideas. If you get a chance to see it in the near future, you should. It’s only opening in two screens this weekend, but I expect it will open to more screens soon or at least make it’s way to Netflix Instant. And hey, it will at least give you a decent fix of medieval Bean until Game of Thrones arrives on HBO!