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Kingdom of Heaven Review

By Shawn McKenzie 05/15/2005

My review of Kingdom of Heaven might be biased not based on any religious view, but the entertainment factor of religious-based movies in general.  Also…I haven’t seen a medieval movie that I’ve really liked in quite a while.  Last year’s The Passion of the Christ and King Arthur were two of 2004’s most boring movies.  The fact that Troy was a little more interesting was that I actually understood the story of it (which, I will admit, I didn’t for Passion or Arthur…at least not at first.)  I heard stories and parodies of the famous Trojan Horse, and the action was cool in it, so Troy worked for me more than the others…and this movie was no exception.

My only knowledge of the Holy Wars is based on Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which doesn’t really help me much.  Balian of Ibelin (Orlando Bloom) is a blacksmith (a profession Bloom also played in 2003’s The Pirates of the Caribbean) in France in 1184.  Things aren’t great for the young man.  He lost his son, and as a result, he also lost his wife, since she committed suicide because she couldn’t handle the grief.  Baron Godfrey of Ibelin (Liam Neeson) approaches Balian and asks the blacksmith to go with him to Jerusalem to join with his Knights and fight in the Holy War.  Godfrey tells Balian that he is the illegitimate son that he never knew, and asks him to join the crusade.  Balian turns Godfrey down at first, but later that night, he ends up killing the priest (Michael Sheen) who had decapitated his wife after her burial (the priest had decapitated her because it was a sin to bury someone who had committed suicide…I think.)  Balian was upset about the decapitation and the fact that the priest was wearing her crucifix when he buried her.  Balian decides to join Godfrey, because he thinks that he might be forgiven in Jerusalem for his wife’s murder and his own recent killing.  Before heading off to Jerusalem, some men show up demanding that Balian be punished for the murder of the priest.  The Hospitaler (David Thewlis), Balian’s spiritual advisor, and Odo (Jouko Ahola), one of Godfrey’s men who trained Balian in swordplay, join Godfrey in defending his son.  Odo is killed, and Godfrey is mortally injured, but not before he knights his son and makes him swear an oath to safeguard the helpless and do no wrong.  Before Balian arrives in Jerusalem, he is shipwrecked and tries to cross the desert on the ship’s only surviving horse to make it to the Holy Land.  While crossing the desert, he runs into two Muslims, Almaric (Velibor Topic) and his servant Nasir (Alexander Siddig), who have an argument over the ownership of Balian’s horse.  Balian fights with and kills Almaric, and Nasir pledges his lifelong loyalty to him.  Balian doesn’t want Nasir to be his servant, but he does have Nasir guide him to Jerusalem.  Balian finally arrives in Jerusalem, lets Nasir go, and reunites with the Hospitaler (the Hospitaler had decided to take another boat.)  Balian also meets Guy de Lusignan (Marton Csokas) again (they had met before the trip to the Holy Land), a knight who didn’t like Godfrey, and the king’s sister Sibylla (Eva Green), who is the wife of Guy from a prearranged marriage.  Both Godfrey and the Hospitaler don’t like Guy (or didn’t, in the case of Godfrey), because Guy has been trying to unseat the king, King Baldwin IV (Edward Norton), who is dying from leprosy and wears a metal mask to hide his facial ugliness.  Guy just wants Baldwin to die so that Sibylla will be queen and therefore Guy will be king.  Sibylla hates Guy, and eventually wants to have a fling with Balian.  Joining in the dislike for Guy is the Marshall of Jerusalem, Tiberias (Jeremy Irons), Baldwin’s advisor.  Baldwin and Tiberias had been trying to form a truce with Muslim leader Saladin (Ghassan Massoud), and Baldwin wanted pilgrims of all faiths to visit the city, but Guy was getting in the way of that truce.  Guy and his second-in-command Reynald de Chatillon (Brendan Gleeson) are members of the Knights Templar, and they will stop at nothing to avoid peace with the Muslims.  Guy has a group of Muslims slaughtered, and Baldwin reluctantly goes to war with the huge Muslim army…but only if Balian will lead the charge.  Balian tries to be both victorious and diplomatic at the same time with the Muslims, though it almost appears a little too overwhelming for his knights.

Ridley Scott directed the movie, and I think that the biggest mistake he made was in some of the casting.  Bloom doesn’t command “lead role” status as the hero of an epic film, and therefore almost no one stands out (the only one who does stand out is Neeson, and as I described in the synopsis above, he dies early in the film.)  Scott had cast Russell Crowe in another swordplay movie, Gladiator, and that movie went on to win best picture (along with a Best Actor win for Crowe.)  What could have been another boring swordfight epic was made that much better by Crowe’s performance.  Bloom doesn’t have that much charisma.  I wish that I could remember anyone else in this movie to comment on their individual performances, but they were all so unmemorable that it made it hard.  Even Norton, an actor who I’ve loved in almost every movie he has ever made, was dull (mainly because I didn’t realize that it was Norton for a while under the mask.)  You would think that the only lead female character, Green as Sibylla, would stand out, but even she bored me.

The war scenes were impressive visually.  I thought it was cool how Balian was able strategically to knock down the mobile Muslim towers advancing upon the walls of the city like a set of dominos.  I was a little annoyed though that every other character killed had to shoot blood out of their neck like a geyser.  Once or twice would be fine, but after, like, the fifth character had the same experience, I stopped counting.

My friend and colleague Reggie McDaniel has told me on numerous occasions that we all bring with us our own baggage into a movie.  Apparently, I must have brought with me my own baggage, because Kingdom of Heaven didn’t do it for me.  Aside from poor casting choices, maybe in Scott’s attempt to be politically and religiously correct to both Christians and Muslims, he ended up boring everyone.  Again, that might just be my own bias, because the crowd in general seemed to like the film at the screening in which I saw it.  Someday I may re-watch it and I may have a different opinion, but for now, the movie was far from heavenly.

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