The passion of Ben Foster can rarely be questioned. The actor often puts every bit of his being into his character. Sometimes, that intensity overshadows a film, but often it helps create true stakes within the story. In Foster’s latest starring role, Medieval, you will be surprised to find a very different version of the actor. Directed by Petr Jákl, Medieval tells the story of Jan Zizka, a Czech warlord that became something of a legend during the 15th century. While it bears a passing resemblance to other epics like Braveheart or The Outlaw King, Jákl’s film cannot craft an interesting enough story to breathe life into the story.
During the reign of King Sigismund (Matthew Goode), Zizka (Foster) finds himself working as a mercenary. With his crew of warriors, he protects Lord Boresh (Michael Caine) and works various odd jobs. Zizka receives orders to kidnap the betrothed Katherine (Sophie Lowe), who is set to marry the political force Rosenberg (Til Schweiger). However, when Rosenberg and Sigismund team up, the realm finds itself under an iron fist. Zizka and Katherine begin to lead a rebellion, one that will upset the political machinations of Eastern Europe.
Jákl struggles to keep the energy up in the film, which becomes the first strike against the film. When action setpieces are unveiled, they are choreographed well enough. Yet there’s a blandness that Medieval cannot shake. This comes from a poorly structured screenplay and some truly basic cinematography. At no point does the film ever break its grayish, blue color palette, which helps a haze set over the audience. This grimy look may have worked in 2008 for Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, but it does not work in an era with finer cameras than ever before.
The subdued color palette and pacing of the film make Foster’s performance stand out. The normally active performer seems poised to play Zizka as a mysterious and stoic warrior. In a film where other characters step into the wildcard role, this might have worked. Yet the stripped-down approach leads many other performers to emulate Foster. With every actor playing down their reactions, we are left with a quest that feels inessential.
It seems possible that Medieval could have succeeded in another director’s hands. Yet it seems unlikely that many other directors would understand the importance Jákl to Czech. This begins a cyclical issue of who should be telling which stories, so ultimately Jákl’s involvement is more helpful. However, with a flat story and flat emotions throughout the film, Medieval might fade into the background while we’re typing this review.