TRISTAN & ISOLDE
STARRING James Franco, Sophia Myles, Rufus Sewell, Henry Cavill
DIRECTED BY Kevin Reynolds
Opens Friday, January 13
One of the most popular stories from the Middle Ages, the legend of Tristan and Isolde pre-dated Romeo and Juliet as the ultimate love tragedy. Richard Wagner adapted the story into an opera and as far back as 1977, Ridley Scott was supposed to direct a movie based on the tale. Finally on the big screen for the first time, Scott only executive produces, leaving the directing chores to Kevin Reynolds, best known for the much maligned Waterworld. The result is a decidedly mixed bag.
The mythic tragedy tells of the affair between noble knight Tristan (James Franco) and Isolde (Sophia Myles), who is to be married to Lord Marke (Rufus Sewell) and become the future Queen of England.
Shot in Ireland and Prague, the film features gorgeous settings, and the cinematography and music are suitably beautiful and atmospheric. However, they only serve to cover up the fact that Tristan & Isolde lacks the one thing crucial to the films success: chemistry between the leads. Franco has been effective in the past, particularly in his breakout role on Freaks and Geeks and the TNT movie where he played James Dean, but he simply doesnt have the acting chops to play the larger-than-life romantic lead, however high his cheekbones may be. Its not that hes bad; far from it. He just never rises far above passable. Myles (of Underworld and Thunderbirds fame) looks stunning in her various stylized period costumes, but few sparks fly in her scenes with Franco. Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix generated much more believable heat in Walk the Line, and that wasnt even a romance.
The movie is not without its entertainment value. There are several swordfights, and they are all well-choreographed and intense. Reynolds thankfully doesnt shy away from showing the brutality inherent in fighting to the death over love, and these scenes, particularly Myless sequence, provide the films most exciting moments.
Bottom line Tristan & Isolde has a lot going for it. The visuals, production and fight scenes are all first-rate, and they add up to provide decent entertainment. In other hands, this age-old tale might have made for something really special, but without a believable and compelling romantic element, it falls short of being a classic.