Tristan + Isolde (2006)

DVD Cover (Twentieth Century Fox)
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Overall Rating 68%
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Ranked #1,967
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An affair between the second in line to Britain's throne and the princess of the feuding Irish spells doom for the young lovers. --IMDb
Review by bluemeanie
Added: January 18, 2006
What is the deal with the historical epics? If the bombings of both "Troy" and "Kingdom of Heaven" proved anything it is that American audiences are sick and tired of films like "Troy" and "Kingdom of Heaven". For most moviegoers, sitting through three hours of the same old battles and inflated pre-battle speeches is not what they want to be doing on a Saturday night, especially when they can see the latest Queen Latifah comedy. But, if you're going to produce another historical epic, whom better than Kevin Reynolds, director of "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" and "The Count of Monte Cristo", to take the helms. "Tristan & Isolde" is more of a love story than a historical epic, but it does insert a back-story of the battle between Ireland and the British kingdoms. In this sense, "Tristan & Isolde" tries to be more of a history lesson than anything else. The film prides itself on the fact that most people have probably never heard about this story, and the tag-line for the film is, "Before Romeo & Juliet, there was..." So, is this suppose to suggest that the story of Tristan and Isolde is more passionate than the story of Romeo and Juliet? As much as it pains me to admit it, William Shakespeare has a little more punch than screenwriter Dean Georgaris.

In his first leading role of any significance, James Franco stars as Tristan. As a child, he watches his mother and father struck down by the invading Irish hordes. He is taken in and cared for by Lord Marke (Rufus Sewell), a kind man who wants the battling tribes in Britain to merge and become unified so they might, once and for all, defeat the sinister King Donnchadh (David O'Hara). During one battle with the Irish, Tristan is poisoned and presumed dead by his village...he is set to see, but somehow survives and winds up on the beaches of Ireland, where he is discovered and nursed back to healthy by the beautiful Isolde (Sophia Myles), daughter to King Donnchadh. While together, Tristan and Isolde fall for one another, but must separate when the king starts getting closer and closer to Tristan's whereabouts. So, Tristan travels back home to his village. Soon, however, he is dispatched to Ireland to fight in a battle where the prize is the daughter of the king. Tristan wins the battle and the king's daughter...but she now belongs to Lord Marke, Tristan's friend and father figure. That is where the love story gets a little more interesting than most. And, throughout the entire love story, there is the impending battle between Ireland and the tribes of Britain.

What made this story slightly more involving than most was the addition of the Lord Marke character. It would have been nice and convenient to have Tristan and Isolde fall in love, but be forced to live apart due to the warring tribes. However, adding the third character created a love triangle that became rather engaging. Tristan loves Isolde, but he also loves Lord Marke, the man whom saved his life many years prior. He has liaisons with Isolde, but feels guilty for having them, even though Tristan did see Isolde first and did make a connection much sooner. Isolde sums it up quite nicely in the film when referring to Lord Marke, "He's a kind man, I can't hate him." There's the rub. Lord Marke is a kind man. His character is kind, caring, and likable...maybe even more so than Tristan. Personally, I thought Lord Marke showed much more affection than Tristan ever did. Alas, Lord Marke's name is not in the title of the film. The key question in the film becomes, when will Tristan and Isolde get found out? We know it is going to happen, we just don't know when it is going to happen. Then, the question becomes, how will Lord Marke react? Personally, I thought his reaction to the situation was the single greatest sequence in the entire film.

As I have stated on many occasions, other than serving as eye candy, James Franco is not what I would consider a strong actor. I loved him in "Freaks & Geeks", and I think he is a fine supporting player in the "Spider-man" films, but as a leading man, he is stiff and sometimes emotionless. During the film, when all of this emotional trauma is occurring, his facial expression stays the same. Even when Franco is playing stiff, he plays it far too stiff - he looks like he is breaking a bone with every move he makes. I also hard a problem with Sophia Myles as Isolde. She just didn't evoke enough sympathy from me. I never believed she was really torn between Tristan and Lord Marke. Thank God for Rufus Sewell. As Lord Marke, Sewell completely stole the film from the two title characters. He played Marke as a man both lonely and commanding, made weaker and more vulnerable by the loss of his hand. Sewell is an actor who, though frequently cast in less than admirable roles, always seems to give an amazing performance. In "Tristan & Isolde", he takes a role than would have been wasted on most other actors, and turned it into a star performance.

Does this mean I disliked "Tristan & Isolde"? Absolutely not. I admired the film for taking the conventional love triangle and putting a twist to it. I admired the casting of Rufus Sewell in the role of Lord Marke. I admired the scene where the two girls are warming up a naked James Franco...and I don't think I need to explain that one. I was never bored with this film. Kevin Reynolds is good with these types of films, and he typically knows to keep them shorter than most. A three hour version of this film would have been a disaster. Reynolds was able to fit everything we needed to know into just slightly over two hours of film. I applaud that. Halfway through "Troy", I felt like pulling my hair. Halfway through "Kingdom of Heaven", I just really didn't care who won the damned Crusades. As stiff as Franco was, and as rangeless as Myles was, "Tristan & Isolde" deserves slightly more attention than "Glory Road" and "Last Holiday". If nothing else, you get to see an underrated actor, Rufus Sewell, proving himself as a phenomenal performer once more.

Lucid Dreams #1: Lucid Dreams - added 06/16/2010, 11:38 AM
I was shocked that I enjoyed this film. Good review. 7/10
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