Film Reviews: Wednesday, May 04, 2005
Kingdom of Heaven
Starring Orlando Bloom and Eva Green. Directed by Ridley Scott. Written by William Monahan. Rated R.
Crosses of War

Ridley Scottís Crusades epic is scrupulous and fair. Too bad itís so dull.


The medieval Crusades are a touchy historical subject these days, so if nothing else, Kingdom of Heaven deserves credit for handling them well. Set in the year 1184, it takes place in a Jerusalem thatís controlled by a Christian king while the surrounding areas are ruled by tolerant Muslims. The fragile truce between the two religions is constantly threatened by the arrival of Christian fanatics like the Knights Templar from all over Europe, looking to expel the infidels from the Holy Land. The movie is riddled with inaccuracies ó a couple of kings with the name Baldwin are conflated into the leprous figure we get here ó that make it useless as history. The movie does strike the right tone. The Christian king (played by Edward Norton, with his face hidden behind a steel mask) and the pragmatic Saladin (played by Syrian actor Ghassan Massoud), whoís depicted as every bit the wise and honorable leader that Muslims revere him as, would both coexist peacefully, but when the zealots come to power, the region is plunged into a disastrous war.
Intellectually speaking, this movie has its bases covered. As entertainment, however, itís pretty dull. After taking a break on the small-scale Matchstick Men, director Ridley Scott is back on his old stomping grounds. Heís made so many great Hollywood films in the last few decades that heís playing with the houseís money for the rest of his career, yet it should be said that, Gladiator notwithstanding, heís at his least interesting when heís doing these epics. Audiences go to these films to see pageantry and huge battles. The movieís re-creation of medieval Jerusalem in its splendor isnít compelling, and the first major battle doesnít arrive until more than an hour into the filmís 145-minute length. The combat sequences have one notable visual ó when the nighttime horizon suddenly lights up with flaming missiles about to be fired at the city from Muslim catapults ó but other than that, theyíre filmed with little zest. Thatís partly by design, as Scott seems to be trying to convey a sense of futility and wasteful death. This is fine, but it all comes out flat and uninvolving instead of tragic.
A great star might have carried this film the way Russell Crowe carried Gladiator. The lead actor here is Orlando Bloom, as a French blacksmith who has inherited the land and military titles of his long-lost father (Liam Neeson), and while he certainly gives a laudable effort, he doesnít seem to possess any Crowe-like magnetism. Nor does he have much chemistry with the exotic Eva Green, who fires off a few stray sparks as the token romantic lead.
The film at least doesnít have any of the unintentional silliness of Troy and Alexander. If it inspires any interest among mainstream moviegoers about the Crusades and the roots of Western civilizationís history with the Muslims, thatís good. Yet how can it do that when itís possible to sleep through significant portions of this movie without missing any important plot points? Come to think of it, thatís probably the best way to deal with it if youíre in a theater thatís showing Kingdom of Heaven.

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