The Reckoning



Set in England in 1380, this medieval murder mystery signals its serious intent by being dark and moody and by having minor-key cello music slither ominously on the sound track. After a disorienting opening, a series of bewildering close-ups no doubt means to cue us that we’re entering an alien world before the film settles into its conventional narrative.

Francis is a priest on the lam after having committed adultery and, as is suggested by menacing yet vague flashbacks, something worse. He encounters and joins a group of traveling actors, led by Martin, played by Willem Dafoe. The group arrives in a town to put on some of their religious plays but, largely through the persistence of Francis and Martin, the troupe becomes involved in the case of a deaf-mute woman who’s been charged with murdering a young boy.

All this is mildly interesting but the movie really drops the ball when it comes to addressing — or dramatizing — its larger underlying theme. The film is set during a period when the theater transformed from a religious to a secular enterprise, and it’s up to Dafoe’s character to have the big Eureka! moment of conceptual breakthrough.

Having become convinced that the deaf woman is innocent and finding the townspeople unwilling to talk about it, Martin decides to put on a play dramatizing the murder, hoping that it will loosen tongues. His fellow players are uneasy at the prospect of doing something that may be blasphemous but he persuades them, saying that the production of such dramas is “the wave of the future,” or words to that effect.

That this new kind of drama gets used against an old kind of evil is another idea that gets lost.

For all its pretense and clever directorial touches, this is a pretty old-fashioned film. The villain looks like a villain, his henchmen look like henchmen, you pretty much know where everything’s headed (and can easily guess Francis’ guilty secret), and the complicated historical metamorphosis of theatre is reduced to Willem Dafoe having a bright idea.

The exotic setting aids this routine tale, but there’s a slackness in the telling. Besides, any film where actors as interesting as Brian Cox and Gina McKee are severely underused simply isn’t trying hard enough.


Showing at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main, Royal Oak). Call 248-263-2111.

Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Detroit Metro Times Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Metro Times Press Club for as little as $5 a month.