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The Reckoning

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Set in 14th-century England, The Reckoning bites off a lot -- the rigid alliance of England's ruling class and the Catholic Church, the culpability of the church in sexual matters, the rise of secular entertainment, a murder mystery and a courtroom drama, episodes of public and personal redemption -- and in less than two hours, manages to chew through a good bit of it. (The extraordinary bone structure of its two leads, Willem Dafoe and Paul Bettany, can only help.) In Paul McGuigan's film, based on Barry Unsworth's novel Morality Play, Bettany portrays Nicolas, a defrocked priest on the run, who joins up with Dafoe's group of traveling actors. A chance stay in a small village where a mute woman is on trial for killing a child prompts the troupe to drop their standard Biblical re-enactments in favor of re-playing the hamlet's recent dramatic events. Naturally, mysteries are unearthed (quite literally) and solved, but so too is the power of performance advanced: How facile it is to sway a crowd's opinion with carefully constructed spectacle, a tactic once reserved for the power class now employed by muddy actors with personal axes to grind. While it's all a trifle obvious, there's much to enjoy in this play-within-a-play with fine performances and an impressively dank Middle Ages milieu. Three cameras

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