Tristan & Isolde
January 13th, 2006
Director Kevin Reynolds manages to stage some terrific action in the gloomy romantic adventure, “Tristan & Isolde.” He has a harder time with the love story, which is hurt by leads that don’t connect. But there’s an effort to the film that interesting, even with its flawed execution.
It is the dark ages, and the war between Ireland and Britain has taken a heavy toll on the land and its people. Tristan (James Franco, "Spider-Man") is a British solider, blessed with devastating fighting skills, and the ear of his guardian, Lord Marke (Rufus Sewell, "The Legend of Zorro"). Isolde (Sophia Myles, "Thunderbirds") is an Irish princess, cursed with a life that she does not want. When Tristan and Isolde meet by chance, they begin a fiery romance in secret, hoping their love will not topple their warring kingdoms at the point when peace seems finally at hand.
Billed as the tragic love story that predates "Romeo and Juliet," "Tristan & Isolde" is a sincere attempt at medieval romance and adventure in a marketplace that often begs the opposite.
The director is Kevin Reynolds, the filmmaker behind such gems as "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" and "The Count of Monte Cristo." "Tristan" returns Reynolds to the arena of mud-caked locations and brutal swordfights, and this is where the director shines the brightest. Whether utilizing the desolate locations (strikingly captured by cinematographer Artur Reinhart) or staging a strong skirmish, Reynolds is terrific detailing this era of adventure, and the film reaches exciting high points when it concentrates on the boiling blood between the Britons and the Irish. As strong a PG-13 film as I've seen in recent memory, "Tristan" is a violent production, constructing the chaos of war and the price of glory, maintaining Tristan as a brave soul who will fling himself into any situation without fear. Reynolds (an unfairly maligned director) eschews heroic themes or choreography for his characters, and the effect is icy, but often deeply compelling.
However, when Tristan finds love in the healing arms of Isolde, the film can't quite muster up the same excitement. Already a cold, standoffish production, Reynolds has terrible trouble finding the right emotional core of this relationship. Saddled with thick romantic declarations from screenwriter Dean Georgaris, "Tristan" isn't as convincing with lovers as it is with swords. Part of the problem lies in the chemistry between Franco and Myles. Franco can't quite keep up with his co-star, playing a little too hard on the sullen aspects of his character, and not enough on the lovestruck evolution of a bitter warrior. Myles is much more alive on screen, and she acts circles around Franco with her heartfelt, appealing performance.
"Tristan & Isolde" is certainly a gorgeous film that aspires to pinch a bit of period realism in with all the googly-eyes and brawny swordplay. It's a nice attempt to tell a classic love story with integrity, but the execution falters, leaving the true power of the romance lacking when the film needs it the most.
My rating: C+