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It takes a moment, but soon it becomes clear why the somber Czech period epic “Medieval” doesn’t work as a dour post-“Game of Thrones” costume drama. Instead, “Medieval” is a bleak and visually oversaturated allegory about the fifteenth century revolutionary Czech soldier turned military leader Jan Žižka (Ben Foster). There’s blood and chainmail, yes, but it’s also an overly serious allegory about duty and faith during miserable times.

The same sort of brutal violence, confusing soap opera plotting and sad sack fatalism characterize “Game of Thrones” which is found in “Medieval.” However, “Medieval,” in contrast to HBO’s sensationalized and uneven adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s captivating fantasy novels presents the past as bloody unromantic parable justified by its ending moral. Yet Žižka himself never fails to rise to any challenge that comes his way while at the same time fighting on against the very spiritual decay and systemic inequality that would eventually earn him a battlefield legend status or even be considered a beloved man of the people. The reason I say somehow is because this film does not convincingly portray Žižek as an iconoclastic saint.

This crash course in Czech history has plenty of compelling details and explanations but not for characters, dialogues or dramatic climax. This opening section also casts Michael Caine as Lord Boresh; he plays this role with such powerful disdain for everybody else in most scenes thereby serving his last goal towards providing expositionary character.

Speaking of the plot: after an overly complicated series of double crosses and secret allegiances, the sour-faced Žižka finds himself caught in a feud between the well-liked, but powerless Bohemian King Wenceslas (Karel Roden) and his conniving brother Sigismund (Matthew Goode). Žižka and his men are charged with abducting Lady Katherine (Sophie Lowe), the independent-minded fiancé of Lord Rosenberg (Til Schweiger), one of Sigismund’s allies. Žižka and Katherine instantly hit it off, though it’s never really clear why based on their halting conversations about God, or Foster and Lowe’s general lack of chemistry.

Unfortunately, “Medieval” does not improve after Žižka takes it upon himself to protect Katherine from Sigismund, who wants to unseat his brother, and is also willing to betray his pal Rosenberg in order to do it. There’s some impressive antagonistic chemistry between Foster and Roland Møller, the latter of whom plays Torak, Sigismund’s main heavy.

There are also a bunch of upsetting war scenes that verge on overexposure if they don’t already cross that line completely into hyper-stylization as well as being too close with surreal hand-held camerawork that borders on maybe verges on weirdly intrusive. So many body parts get shattered; soldiers fall from horses; while metal scrapes against metal. The stuntwork and period weapons in these scenes all look fine; some of the special effects—and at least a few composite images in shots—look expensive enough to have been worth using them here. But the real stars of “Medieval” are the foley artists and sound designers who make every clang or squelch seem cranked up louder than anything ever seen before.

Even such fights are heavy in even these heavily action-oriented swordfight, which comes from earlier dialogue scenes that feel like they’re going on and on and like somebody’s just gotten all the wrong settings on a new high definition TV by accident. In conversation Foster does not sound like Žižka, the man who changed history. He informs them that if his men choose to fight with him, it would be for a “good cause” and “that is a good death.” In answer, they sing about being “God’s soldiers,” suggesting arrogance but hey.

In theory both of Žižka’s and Katherine’s conversations have something new to say regarding God hence attracting attention. Also he occasionally mutters about “God’s will” or how “death brings life” because as an eternally frustrated soldier of fortune Ziska airs his views about war. It is therefore nice to see Katherine softly requesting him to explain his seemingly mantra-like catechisms. Finally, “Medieval” ends with a choral hymn whose lyrics mean “Pray to God and have faith in Him,” since someone has to pave the way for this soaringly inevitable conclusion.

Lady Katherine talks kind of like she’s auditioning for some terrible religious play, which sort of ruins her character. She wants to know about Žižka’s dead wife; he tells her that he never had any doubts about their foundation together. With these words Katherine answers saying: “Those feelings may be the only things you know that’s true.” And maybe there is only one thing given us by God?” I could agree if anything else in “Medieval” acted as though it were inspiring too in some way or another? Violent jolts and cheesy plot twists; yes! — But oh my God!, {wait} duty?, romantic love? These finer emotions need much more than popular pessimism or formulaic violence.

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