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April 2005

By Godfrey Powell, Jr.

Kingdom of Heaven

Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Producers: Ridley Scott
Screenwriters: William Monahan
Cinematographer: John Mathieson
Composer: Harry Gregson-Williams
Cast: Orlando Bloom, Liam Neeson, Jeremy Irons, Eva Green, Brendan Gleeson, Edward Norton, Ghassan Massoud, Marton Csokas, Alexander Siddig, David Thewlis



In 2000, Ridley Scott directed Gladiator, starring Russell Crowe, a detailed wondrous realistic Caesarean tale of violence, tragedy and honor. The film went on to win an Oscar for Best Picture and a deserved Best Actor Oscar to Russell Crowe. Gladiator singlefilmedly revived the swords and sandals genre. Crowe as Maximus played a framed general turned slave fighter who ultimately pushes the Roman Empire towards democracy. Without turning this into an archived review of Gladiator, Russell Crowe emanated gravitas. Gravitas (Latin) defined as having a serious or dignified demeanor. General Maximus clearly led men into war, killed men in battle and suffered the agonizing tragedies of bloodshed. Gravitas! In Kingdom of Heaven, Orlando Bloom valiantly tries to give gravitas to his role as a blacksmith turned knight during the time of the Crusades but fails. There is trite believability in his character as a fatherless blacksmith whom in the course of a few weeks becomes a vaunted warrior, leader of men in the art of war. Bloom in another sword and sandal epic, Troy is was much better cast as the effeminate Paris.

The movie begins in the 1100s, where Bloom as Legolas, I mean Balian has just lost his child during labor and subsequently his wife commits suicide. Grieving in sorrow, he has become a pariah to the other villagers. Godfrey (Liam Neeson playing a character with an amazing name) a Lord Knight travels through the village on the way to Jerusalem. He stops at the blacksmith shop and makes a confession: "It would be honorable for me to say that I forced myself on your mother but the truth is she accepted me willingly. I loved her. I am your father." Balian accepts the news with aggrieved aplomb. "If you wish anything of me, ask it now as you will never see me again." Balian does not respond and turns away. Godfrey continues his journey toward the Holy Land. That evening, an oily priest chastises Balian by reminding him that his wife's soul is in hell as is the principle under the Catholic faith. In a burst of rage, Balian slaughters the priest with his blacksmith tools and burns down his shop. He flees up the road and catches up with his "father." A period of bonding ensues, Balian is knighted, Godfrey and all the other knights die. Honoring a vow he made to his father, Balian journeys to Jerusalem. Upon arrival, Balian aloofly becomes the Rebel knight fighting Muslims one moment and defying the English-speaking kingdom the next.

A meandering plot occurs in the middle part causing not only boredom but muddled confusion. A thorough refresher course is needed on the history of the Crusades and all parties involved. While better than the overwrought Hollywood set piece Troy, Kingdom of Heaven has the pale young smoky-eyed pouty Queen (Eva Green), the traitorous fiend Reynald (Brendan Gleeson also in Troy), the cowardly treacherous prince in waiting (Marton Csokas) in other words literally predictability is cast. The script ends with the long fought battle in which Balian emerges with an at the most: a lukewarm victory. Surprisingly, this movie will be remembered for its even keel portrayal of Muslims especially as they emerge victorious in battle; a true rarity in Hollywood. The film revels in its desire to be the next great epic. It merely falls to a solid somewhat banal period piece of excellent bloody sword and arrow play in numerous battles.