Revolver Entertainment // 2003 // 109 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // July 17th, 2013
From the flames of battle a hero shall rise.
From a storytelling perspective, the Crusades have it all. There's bloody action, political intrigue, a bit of romance, and the promise of lots of exotic locations. They occur over hundreds of years and offer a near-infinite number of angles to approach stores of conflict -- and yet, with few exceptions the cinematic world has largely ignored the Crusades. Sure, they're always in the background of Robin Hood films, but by and large cinema and the Crusades don't mix. After Dragon Knight it's not hard to see why. Though it's not a story of the Crusades per se, the film does give us a story with that kind of conflict in the background, and at its center is a knight scarred (both literally and figuratively) by his experiences in violent conflict. Fans of Daniel Auteuil might find something to salvage here, but most fans of Medieval themes will want to pass.
Guillaume de Montaubon (Daniel Auteuil, Sade) is the Red Dragon, a knight scarred by his experiences in the Crusades. When the pope's favorite poet runs away in a fit of romance, he offers a hefty reward to the one who returns him. This sends the Red Dragon on an odyssey across Medieval France with his squire in search of a poet.
Do not be fooled by the marketing hype surrounding Dragon Knight. Though the tagline promises "A hero shall rise," and the disc cover likens the film to Iron Clad and Centurion, these comparisons are wholly inaccurate. Dragon Knight does feature a few sword battles and plenty of armored traipsing around, but it's hardly a pulse-pounding action-fest. Those who come to the film looking for slaying and battles will be sorely disappointed.
Instead, Dragon Knight is much closer to a film like Bresson's Lancelot Du Lac. Though not as formally innovative (or as formally frustrating) as Bresson's Arthurian tale, Dragon Knight does attempt to immerse the viewer in the world of Medieval times. There are lots of shots of the beautiful French countryside, and numerous scenes in period-accurate castles and fortifications. Though the search for the poet is the ostensible reason for the narrative, it really exists to put the titular Dragon Knight in various locations. Sure there are some conflicts along the way, but really it's about our hero wandering the countryside.
Such an arthouse take on the Medieval works best when two conditions are satisfied. The first is that the characters be played by strong actors, ones who don't need a lot of plot or much characterization to be compelling. In that, Dragon Knight chooses well. Daniel Auteuil is an arthouse superstar thanks to his work with (among others) Michael Haneke, and his face has that worn, live-in look that perfectly befits a knight returning from bloody conflict. He largely carries the movie, and even if his character is sketchy and his dramatic arc flatter than most viewers will appreciate there's something compelling about Auteuil as an actor that makes his journey somewhat worthwhile. The rest of the cast aren't quite as up to the task as our hero, but they acquit themselves with enough flair to keep things moving for the most part.
Where Dragon Knight falls down, however, is in the second condition: being normally interesting. If you're going to skimp on the story and action, you've got to have something visual to keep viewers tuned in. Dragon Knight tries by giving us lots of lingering shots of the French countryside and the occasional castle, but the execution is a bit lacking. The story demands to be shot on the most sumptuous film that can be found, with plenty of saturation to arrest the viewer with the French vistas. Instead, it looks like a poorly produced web series. Everything is overly sharp and colors are flat. The film's cinematographer is Benoit Delhomme who has lensed such great-looking projects as The Proposition and Lawless, so I can only imagine that budget was a factor in the decision. In any case the film looks cheesy instead of interesting.
This DVD doesn't help things very much. The 2.40:1 anamorphic transfer lacks much detail and colors are fairly flat. Black levels are actually pretty good, with nice depth and consistency. Compression artefacts aren't a problem. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack in French is fine, with clear dialogue and some ambience from the surrounds, with English subtitles included. There are no extras.
Fans of Daniel Auteuil might want to track this one down for his performance, while fans of Medieval production design will appreciate the eye for period detail. Everyone else should probably skip Dragon Knight, as it's an ineffective experiment in mixing the medieval with the art house
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Revolver Entertainment
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated