Along the way, Guinevere shows up, but—ah, revisionism!—she’s practically feral. Under the sway of Merlin (Stephen Dillane, who has a disappointing lack of screen time and performs no magic), Guinevere and her fellow Britons rally—humiliate, actually—Arthur to their defense. Guinevere (Keira Knightley), a great archer, suits up for the final battle against the Saxons by smearing herself in some kind of green paste. Pre-paste, though, she has exactly one love scene with Arthur, and it’s shot in that lyrical what-body-part-am-I-looking-at? mode that seems to be fashionable again. (Troy had one, too, with Achilles and his Trojan gal pal.)
The film may be set in the Dark Ages, but the clichés are vintage sixties Hollywood. Lancelot, for example, tells King Arthur, “You fight for a world that does not exist,” and who can argue with him? (You can always tell in a movie when something weighty is being intoned—no contractions.) Arthur is fond of saying things like “My faith is what protects me,” but it’s clear that the Round Table squadron—modeled rather too closely on the Wild Bunch—has a big hand in guarding his flank. Fuqua actually draws on a host of directors besides Sam Peckinpah for his battle scenes, and I suppose if audience members have never seen Alexander Nevsky or The Seven Samurai or Orson Welles’s Chimes at Midnight, then all this clanging and broadswording, presented in gory close-up and edited rapid-fire, will seem impressive. Fuqua deliberately downplays the fantastical in King Arthur, but the gritty faux realism wears itself out quickly. You’ve seen one lancing, you’ve seen them all. Forget revisionism. Sometimes the old ways are the best. Take a look at John Boorman’s mesmeric Excalibur sometime, and tell me if I’m right.
Just because Cole Porter’s biography was botched and airbrushed in Night and Day, starring Cary Grant, doesn’t mean De-Lovely, which is up-front about Porter’s homosexuality, is a whole lot better. The best thing about the film, which was directed by Irwin Winkler from a script by Jay Cocks, is the music: 30 of Porter’s songs (the music was also the only good thing about Night and Day). They are performed periodically in different settings by different artists—from Elvis Costello (“Let’s Misbehave”) to Diana Krall (“Just One of Those Things”) to Natalie Cole (“Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye”)—and the effect is a bit like one of those extended medleys at the Grammys.
The film’s framing device is ambitious: An elderly Porter sits in a theater with a director (Jonathan Pryce) as his life story is rehearsed onstage chronologically. The results, though, are staid, with re-creations of Paris in the Jazz Age and Hollywood in its Golden Age that are like waxworks in motion. As Porter’s steadfast wife, Linda, Ashley Judd is surprisingly one-note (not good for a composer’s spouse). Kevin Kline as Porter is better: He knows how to play dandies, and late in the movie, when Porter is crippled in a riding accident, Kline shows us the pain behind de-loveliness.