You know this kind of moviethe kind that is so bad that you turn to the poor friend you dragged along with you and say, Im so, so sorry. Yeah, it was kind of like that. When I try to think back to where this movie went wrong, Im at a loss. Even the things that usually make a bad movie entertainingbattle scenes, cinematography, the occasional comic reliefare either missing entirely or not nearly enough to make up the deficit. Im not sure which one I want back more, $8.50 or two hours of my life.
But maybe Im getting ahead of myself. Starring James Franco and Sofia Myles, Tristan and Isolde is a story of forbidden love set against the age-old English/Irish conflict. After a skirmish, Tristan, Englands most talented warrior, is believed dead and washes up on a beach to be found by Isolde and her maid. He is nursed back to health by the medicinally inclined Irish princess, and of course, they fall in love. Tristan, however, is in hostile enemy territory, and must leave in a hurry. Through a series of unfortunate events, Isolde is later married to Tristans very own Lord, King Marke. Out of common courtesy I wont ruin the ending for you, but chances are you already know it, and Im not sure it would make any difference anyway. Suffice to say, trouble ensues.
On a better note, Lord Marke is played by the competent, even talented Rufus Sewell. The beauty of Marke is that youre not supposed to root for him, but you cant dislike him either. He is a good man who is accidentally placed in the path of true love. Unfortunately for the film, the subtle balance that this problem offers is toppled when Sewells Marke proves so much more compelling that Francos Tristan. The film aims to make the audience feel torn, but really, Marke wins the popular vote halfway through the movie.
To be fair, Sofia Myles does a good job as the earnest and passionate Isolde. Youre left wanting a little more, but overall, she did the best she could under the circumstances. Lest we forget, this movie was made by the same man who directed WaterworldIm sure it wasnt easy for her. If Myles had been given a different Tristan to play off, who knows what this movie might have been. As it is, she is forced to create and carry the on-screen emotion all by herself for a very long two hours. The load in this case is just too heavy.
It pains me to say it, but if fault has to be laid on someones shoulders, it must be with James Franco. Does anyone remember that James Dean mini-series that was aired a million years ago, and the short-lived Freaks and Geeks? Remember how good he was? We know for a fact that James Franco is a good actoror at least I thought we did. Maybe the problem is the lack of dialogue on his part, but then again, Heath Ledger managed to pull it off in Brokeback Mountain. His faltering accent is also problematic, but I would even let that slide if he offered something else in exchange. The problem is that he doesnt offer anything at all. He doesnt look pained or excited, or even slightly aware that hes besotted with a woman he cant have. And before you even ask, he doesnt have that Russell Crowe quality of simmering emotion beneath a placid surface. Hes pretty much just filler. Id almost prefer a mannequin labeled leading man. At least then you wouldnt feel cheated. Maybe in five years, well find out on a VH1 special that he was a total drug addict during the filming, hence his lackluster performance. (Well, one can hope.)
Youll have to trust me on this, but Im not a snobby movie-goer. I think that some films should just be appreciated as entertainment rather than works of art. But even with my impossibly low standards, this movie could not get its act together. And in case you doubt me, my friend Roshan, the poor girl I practically forced to see this movie with me, has a similar story to tell: The only thing that eased the pain and suffering of that movie was that boys face. Yes, James Franco is handsome. Yes, this movie has some nice sword tricks and bloodied, burly men. Yes, there is the occasional brief and tasteful sex scene. Its pretty much everything youve seen before, just a little worse. Its too late for me, and I can accept that. But please, save yourselves.