Last Knights

By Di Golding

Mailed on April 16, 2015


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Dear Natacha Atlas
Featured Vocalist

Dear Natacha,

The vocal style you use, singing the same syllable over several notes, is called “melisma”. Its intended purpose is to provide a hypnotic, or trance-like effect. You’ve found incredible success by blending this style with electronica, hip-hop and French torch songs and yet have always managed to sound completely original. Last Knights repeats so many worn out tropes, visuals, and stock characters that it too induced a trance-like effect. A kind of deja-vu that nearly sent me into a deep sleep for its seemingly seven-plus hour duration.

If you’ve seen 47 Ronin, or King Arthur or even Robin Hood: Men In Tights then you won’t see anything that hasn’t already been done better (and blessedly faster) than Last Knights. I could try to elaborate on the plot, but the one-sentence IMDb description is vague and unfulfilling enough that I figured I’d follow in Last Knights’ phoned-in footsteps and just copy/paste it here. “A fallen warrior rises against a corrupt and sadistic ruler to avenge his dishonored master.” In fact, part of me is tempted to just write this review by cribbing sentences from reviews of better sword and sandal epics. But unlike the makers of Last Knights, I’m at least half interested in creating something new.

Clive Owen plays Raiden, who is part of an elite group of warriors in what I can only assume is some kind of alternate universe. According to Morgan Freeman’s voice over, this group was formed “during the long dark period of the Great War” and is made up of “all races, colours and creeds”, (but not all genders, unsurprisingly). These fierce fighters are sworn to protect their masters, who in Raiden’s case is Morgan Freeman’s Lord Bartok. When Gezza Mott, the fey, sociopathic Minister to the Emperor has Bartok killed and his people evicted, Raiden and his fellow warriors spend the next seven, or maybe it was eight hours of screen time trying to avenge his death.

Your sound is considered part of the nebulous “world music” genre, which encompasses everything from reggae, to Inuit throat singing, and Buddhist chanting. Your inclusion as a vocalist in this film was most likely meant to lend a trans-cultural vibe, since not once do we ever really know where the film is set. Describing it sounds like I’m trying to recall details of my own kidnapping while under hypnosis: it’s mostly snowy, and grey, there are mountains and forests, and the capital looks like a heavily CGI’d Medieval Times. Perhaps the film’s pedigree (it’s a Czech/South Korea co-production helmed by Japanese director Kazukai Kiriya) contributed to its identity crisis. Or perhaps by trying to be all things to all audiences it simply collapsed under the weight of its own hubris, and no one knew which country was legally bound to put it out of its misery.

When I first heard your clear and powerful voice I thought it was my own inner monologue moaning “Anhhhhhhhh...anhhh...annnnnnnhhh” in agony from hearing dialogue desperately searching for gravitas, seeing characters so flimsily drawn I could have seen right through them if the sets weren’t so poorly lit, and watching bland fight scenes so tension-free they could have been choreographed by the WWE. The only thing that might have saved this film from being a complete snooze-fest would have been some unintentional humour, but Last Knights doesn’t even have the decency to be camp.

Last Knights is a retrograde throwback celebrating “manly men doing manly things” that takes itself far too seriously. But through it all, your voice remains steady and true, and I welcomed it, since the only other women in the film were either crying, or whoring it up at the local tavern. I think Clive Owen’s wife might have been a twig vendor but I also might have imagined it when I went into one of the fugue states this film induced. Or maybe Clive Owen’s real life wife really is a twig vendor and that’s why had to make this movie. I hope that’s the case, or else I’m going to have to get a band of rogue warriors together to avenge his honour. Any chance you’re interested in being our minstrel?

Sounding off,

Di

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