Kingdom of Heaven
directed by Ridley Scott
starring Orlando Bloom, Liam Neeson, Eva Green, Jeremy Irons
20th Century Fox
A battlefield epic. A lovers’ triangle. A saga of political intrigue, and a clash of two religions. The story of a father mentoring his long-lost son. A tale of a lost soul seeking salvation. A gifted director could craft a compelling film using one or perhaps two of these themes; with Kingdom of Heaven, master filmmaker Ridley Scott attempts to intertwine all of these sub-plots in less than 150 minutes, with mixed results.
The somewhat historically accurate film is set between the second and third Crusades, a time when Europe is suffering from a deep economic depression. In an inspired bit of casting, Pirates of the Caribbean‘s Orlando Bloom again plays a blacksmith. This time around, he’s accent-less Frenchman Balian, a man grieving for his family; his wife currently resides in the fires of Hell for committing suicide after their child’s death.
Out of the blue, Crusader Godfrey of Ibelin (Liam Neeson) appears in Balian’s village. Godfrey, a lord, attempts to connect with Balian, his illegitimate son. Balian, who never knew Godfrey existed, declines his father’s invitation to join his knights on a return trip to the Holy Land. When Balian kills a thieving priest in a fit of rage, he races to catch up to Godfrey’s entourage — but he’s not running from the law. Rather, the distraught blacksmith hopes to find salvation for himself and his wife in the Holy Land. Balian discovers that the lord and his small company of like-minded knights do not think of the Middle East as territory ripe for plunder; unlike many of his contemporaries, Godfrey views his Crusade as a spiritual second chance — and desires a peaceful co-existence with the conquered Muslims.
When the knight is mortally wounded in an ambush by Balian’s pursuers, he realizes he has precious little time to impart a knight’s wisdom and code of chivalry to his son. After Godfrey’s death, Balian picks up his daddy’s sword and completes the last leg of the journey to Jerusalem.
The young knight, yearning to connect with God, quickly finds himself in the midst of political chaos instead. Jerusalem is ruled by the forthright, honorable King Baldwin IV, an ailing leader faced with two daunting tasks: One, maintaining a semblance of order among the rival noblemen and their shenanigans, and two, keeping an uneasy truce with Muslim leader Saladin (Syrian film star Ghassan Massoud), who commands a huge legion of soldiers who fervently wish to reclaim the Holy City. The king’s challenges are complicated by the underhanded efforts of two devious aristocrats, Guy de Lusignan (Marton Csokas, The Bourne Supremacy) and Reynald de Chatillon (Brendan Gleeson, The Village). The bloodthirsty pair and their Templar Knights have been raiding caravans in an attempt to provoke a war with Saladin.
Balian is met with scorn and suspicion by his father’s enemies, and is embraced his father’s friends — the King and his trusted advisor, Tiberias (Jeremy Irons). The newcomer is also warmly welcomed by the King’s sister, Princess Sibylla (The Dreamers‘ Eva Green), who, unfortunately, is married to de Lusignan. Her precarious situation does not deter the headstrong princess, who adored Godfrey and quickly falls in love with Balian as he turns his father’s small and rather barren estate into well-irrigated farmland. All the while, the threat of war hangs in the air, and Balian is soon faced with difficult moral decisions when his King asks for assistance.
If this seems like a complicated, hard-to-follow grab bag of storylines, it’s because it is. Kingdom of Heaven lacks the focus of Scott’s previous period piece, Gladiator, and suffers from the presence of a strong leading actor. Neeson is expectedly great in the little time he is allotted, but Bloom, whose acting style is naturally understated, is given little to work with and comes across fairly wooden. Fans of Bloom or Green (the latter possessing one of the most luminous pairs of eyes to ever grace the big screen) will be quite disappointed with the romantic aspect of the film, which could have been a much more vital and incendiary chapter. For starters, their one love scene lasts all of about ten seconds!
This effort — which seems to drag on much longer than it actually runs — also suffers from “Braveheart Syndrome.” By now, moviegoers have become very accustomed to realistic portrayals of hand-to-hand combat on the battlefield, and Scott — apart from a stunning display of catapult warfare — does little to set this effort apart from its bloody predecessors. Though the cinematography is superb, Kingdom of Heaven lacks the fantastic vision and atmosphere one normally associates with a Ridley Scott creation; it’s as if Bloom isn’t the only one sleepwalking through this movie.
Religion, romance, political struggles, clashes between great armies — Ridley Scott tries to imitate the one man who could have pulled it off — Cecil B. DeMille, when he should have emulated Ridley Scott, instead.
Kingdom of Heaven Movie: www.kingdomofheavenmovie.com