Nicholas (Paul Bettany), a priest in 14th-Century England, is seeking to live a moral and holy life, but he commits a grievous crime, gives up the priesthood and ends up a fugitive. He encounters Martin (Willem Dafoe) and his traveling troupe of actors and joins up with them, performing in different cities. While entering a town, they see a woman (Elvira Minguez) on trial for witchcraft and murdering a young boy. The actors decide to reenact the cold killing of the young boy to portray the natural justice that takes course in the lives of the guilty. But as the play progresses, new evidence comes to the surface, possibly vindicating the woman. Nicholas risks his life investigating the incident so that justice will prevail and the innocent be free. But his own past crimes are revealed, and he must wrestle with the consequences while seeking to preserve justice for another.
This film presents the struggle between justice and mercy and how they unfold in people’s lives. While not depicting the two as enemies, the film’s message is that people should contemplate very carefully before casting stones at others. It unfortunately contains a short, but unnecessary, nude sex scene. Church officials are also cast unfavorably. Although moderate violence is woven throughout, the message on justice and mercy is positive and relevant. Due primarily for the nude scene and strong profanity, Dove cannot award the Dove Seal to The Reckoning.