Kingdom of Heaven

| May 10, 2005

It’s too bad that a film about heaven doesn’t have any soul. Sorry, but there you have it. It has everything else: grand battles, a beautiful princess, exotic locales. None of that, however, can make up for that something special that makes people care about the story and the characters. And Kingdom Of Heaven just doesn’t have that something special.
Set in 1184, one-hundred years after the Crusades first started in the Middle East, Kingdom Of Heaven follows the journey of one man, Balian of Ibelin (Orlando Bloom), as he goes to battle under the assumption that in this way he can save his late, suicidal wife from her fate in hell. Yet before even reaching his destination in Jerusalem, Balian meets for the first time his father, Godfrey (Liam Neeson), a knight who teaches his son both swordsmanship and the ways of a decent man. Before his own death, Godfrey admonishes Balian to always do good, that this truly is the surest path to holiness.
Once Balian reaches the Holy Land, however, he soon realizes that there is a power struggle between the sickly King Baldwin of Jerusalem (Edward Norton) and his would-be successor, Guy de Lusignan (Marton Csokas). Married to the king’s sister, Sibylla (Eva Green), de Lusignan is intent on destroying the temporary peace between the Christians and Muslims within the area. Once Baldwin is dead, however, there is little to prevent the new king from carrying out his plan for destruction. It is all Balian can do to save the city and the people within it from complete annihilation by Saladin and his skillful warriors.
Going into this film, I was extremely curious to see just how Scott was going to play the religious card. To state the obvious, we still live in a time of great tension among the major faiths of the world. Just how would he handle such a delicate subject? As far as the movie was concerned, he walked well that fine line of discretion and objectivity. As Scott would have it, it was only the extreme elements that wanted war in the Middle East. Everyone else seems keen on just keeping the peace. Moreover, Scott represented both Christianity and Islam as faiths that at their core promote only goodness, honesty and fairness. While I commend him for taking such an approach, I find it highly doubtful that such open minds actually existed on such a grand scale at the time of the actual Crusades. It wasn’t no tea party, folks.
While I appreciated the themes that Scott put forth in Kingdom Of Heaven, it ‘t enough to override that one indefinable element of which I spoke earlier- that something special that gives a film its heart and soul. Braveheart had it. Scott’s earlier work, Gladiator, had it, too. I can’t really blame the acting. This movie is just overflowing with great actors- Bloom, Neeson, Norton- and they all do justice to the material. The movie looked great, too. A little familiar, mind you, but great nonetheless. In this case, Scott used the same cinematographer (John Mathieson) that he had on Gladiator. I have to say, though, that the battle scenes in Kingdom Of Heaven could have been outtakes from the former Scott epic. I say this because the style was dead on, almost shot for shot the same as Gladiator. The same slow-mo to real time. The same blood spattering during conflict. The same dirt being kicked up in the midst of battle. So although Scott could have perhaps benefited from some fresh blood (no pun intended) among his crew, that wasn’t why the movie disappointed me. Simply put, I came away from this film just not caring about what I saw for the past two and a half hours. Perhaps I’ve just become too jaded. Not that epics are anything new, but a slew of them have been made lately. Yes, I know that Braveheart is already ten years old. And Gladiator is already coming up on its five-year birthday. But then you have King Arthur that just came out last summer and Alexander over the holidays. I don’t know for sure, but maybe this is a case of simple boredom. I’ve seen this just too many times before.
So I guess when all is said and done, Kingdom Of Heaven suffers from an inferiority complex. The movie has a lot to live up to. Not only have bigger and better epics already been made, but Scott unfortunately leaned a little too heavily on his former accomplishment with Gladiator. He can make grand films with the best of them, but this time around, he sadly missed the mark.

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