Picks and Pans Review: The Reckoning

updated 03/15/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/15/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

Willem Dafoe, Paul Bettany

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Mel Gibson isn't the only one focusing on issues of faith and God's intentions. The Reckoning, a trenchant thriller set in rural England in the late 1300s, is about a priest who has lost his way but finds it again while helping to solve a murder mystery.

Based on Morality Play, a 1996 novel by Barry Unsworth, The Reckoning bites off more than it can comfortably chew, but there's still plenty of flavor here. Bettany plays Nicholas, a priest who is on the run after getting caught having sex with a female parishioner. He joins a traveling troupe of actors whose leader (Dafoe) suggests to the group that rather than doing the same old biblical tales as usual, they try telling stories from real life. The actors begin digging into the facts behind a recent murder and discover all is not as purported to be.

Half thriller, half redemption tale, Reckoning is most effective when dwelling on the details of 14th-century theatrical life and poking fun at the eternal vanity of actors. Bettany and Dafoe, who both have cheekbones so chiseled you wonder if they sharpen them between takes, are equally effective, Bettany as a man driven to seek the truth, Dafoe as one who only reluctantly joins his path. (R)

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