(In French, On TV, November 2018) I’m not sure I completely accept Richard Gere as dashing young knight Lancelot trying to win over the queen (Julia Ormond) from King Arthur (Sean Connery). But that’s First Knight for you. The film makes a big deal out of the 35-year age difference between Ormond and Connery, but not so much of the 16-year difference between Gere and Ormond. (But that’s been Hollywood’s idea of an acceptable age range ever since the first movie moguls hit their mid-thirties.) More significant is the film’s overall lack of energy or reason to care: It’s, by design, an unsatisfying premise—who dares have Richard Gere best Sean Connery!?—and the limp execution from Jerry Zucker (better known for comedies) doesn’t do much to help. Even the high points, such as a ridiculously convoluted obstacle course, don’t quite manage to make the film come alive. The treatment of the Arthurian myth is realistic, but for a hollywoodian ideal of realism that seems like an uncomfortable compromise. I probably would have liked the film if I actually cared more about reinterpreting the Arthurian myth … but I don’t. First Knight is also severely harmed by the mid-1990s wave of far better historical movies set around the British Isles, along the lines of Braveheart or (better yet) Rob Roy. The result is not terrible, but neither is it particularly good. Maybe worth a watch for fans of Connery, Ormond or Gere even if their casting is sometimes dubious.
(On DVD, June 2017) Back in the nineties, if you wanted to win Oscars, there weren’t better strategies than going big in the way Legends of the Fall goes big. Take a western, throw in a war drama, then a prohibition subplot, then keep going so that the love complications span decades, involve numerous horrible deaths and settle into some kind of American-frontier bromides. (Plus, add as blatant a case of Chekhov’s gun as I can recall.) It seems cynical, but it does work: The film has uncommon scope and sweep even as it lines up a different subgenre every thirty minutes or so. It helps that it can depend on the reliable Anthony Hopkins as an opinionated patriarch (even though his later appearances in the film can cause unintentional hilarity) and cusp-of-stardom Brad Pitt in the bad-boy role … and Aiden Quinn as the son trying to be socially respectable. Opposite the men, Julia Ormond plays the object of three brothers’ affection, with Karine Lombard showing up briefly to provide a distraction. The stereotypes flock and accumulate in the film, but they sort-of-work, especially if you have a soft spot for American-frontier epics. Legends of the Fall may not be subtle, and it may not be innovative, but there’s something respectable in its blunt-force approach to a moderately respectable tear-jerker.