Submit yourselves therefore to God.
Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Apparently James underestimated the power of the Devil: at least according to almost every Hollywood tale of the supernatural it takes far more than mere resistance to drive off Satan. This certainly is the case in the latest action/thriller set in the 14th Century . Nicolas Cage and Ron Pearlman star in this medieval road picture as two buddy crusaders, Behman and Felson, hacking their way in battle after battle. Urged on by a leader who yells before each battle that God wills that they slay all of the enemies of Christ, the two finally arrive at mental and moral exaustion when, in the red heat of sacking a city, Behman finds that the enemy impaled on his sword is a woman. Felson apparently has arrived at the same point as his companion, the two looking around at the bodies strewn around them, mostly of women and children. Disgusted with themselves, they tell off the leader and head for home.
As they make their way through Hungary, they come upon a walled city above which hovers a cloud of ravens. Felson suggests that they go around the place, but Behman disagrees (he must not have seen The Birds). Discovering that the Black Plague has hit the town, they try to leave, but are arrested as deserters (don’t know how anyone could have known that). They are thrown into prison, let out only when they accept the offer of the plague-infected Cardinal (Christopher Lee) to transport a suspected witch (Claire Foy, known only as The Girl) along with a priest and a swindler/guide to a distant monastary. There the monks can judge whether or not the girl is a witch, plus they possess a holy book with the incantation that can stop the plague. Yeah, sure.
Along the way the group must cross a rickety bridge that threatens to collapse beneath the wight of the cart bearing the caged girl and deal with a pack of fierce wolves eager to eat them for supper. Also they are joined by an altar boy (Stephen Graham) who sees them as his ticket for becoming a knight. The climax involves a battle in which Beelzebub himself leads a swarm of demon-infested monks while the priest hurries through the magical incantation. (Maybe he should have just read the verse from James’ letter.)
I finally went to this film (at a cheap seats theater to which it was relegated shortly after its opening) wanting to like it, both because of Cage and Perlman, and because of my interest in the Middle Ages. Alas, except for minor supporting actors, none of the cast is convincing as medieval denizens. Somewhere I read that Bergman’s masterpiece The Seventh Seal inspired director Dominic Sena, but none of this shows in this shoddy production that would impress only Cage’s mother. A better writer might have made more of the knight’s disillusionment with the church and its bloody theology, so inconsistent with it’s Founder’s Sermon on the Mount, but even then, it needed an actor who rises above Cage’s sleep-walk reading of the words.