Round Table remix

Rated 3.0 King Arthur deserves more respect than it’s been getting from the reviewers, but not too much more. Its stew of glowering artistry, hollow pretension, kitschy half-grandeur and gonzo revisionism may be hard to defend, but there’s some flavorsome stuff in all that mess.

As such, it might qualify simultaneously as guilty pleasure and expressive esoterica. You can’t help, for example, having intriguingly mixed feelings about Clive Owen as King Arthur. He seems a little too glum and self-doubting to play such a commanding figure, yet those qualities work rather well in the film’s oddball mix of anti-heroic gloom and fatalistic heroism.

At times, King Arthur looks like a spaghetti western transplanted to the rain, snow and fog of ancient England. And there is a certain aptness in the notion that director Antoine Fuqua has re-envisioned the Knights of the Round Table as “the Wild Bunch.” But this movie also feels and looks like a half-baked variation on a range of film classics—The Seven Samurai, The Seventh Seal, the film versions of Henry V, etc.—and perhaps even an unconsummated riposte to Mel Gibson’s Braveheart.

Regardless, the thing has an intriguing array of side benefits: Stellan Skarsgaard as a grimly ferocious Saxon warrior-king; Ioan Gruffud as a dashingly gloomy Lancelot; Ray Winstone as a punk-rock, soccer-hooligan version of Sancho Panza; several spectacular battle sequences, including especially one on a frozen mountain lake; a good deal of spectacularly atmospheric, dark-hewed wide-screen cinematography by Slawomir Idziak; bravura Russian-style editing (by Conrad Buff and Jamie Pearson) of some of the action sequences; Keira Knightley as a wild-girl Guinevere who gives Arthur a juicy French kiss; etc.