Eye For Film >> Movies >> Kingdom Of Heaven (2005) Film Review
Kingdom Of Heaven
Reviewed by: Nick Jones
With the Oscar-winning Gladiator, Ridley Scott further established himself as the master of the modern epic, a title that he seeks to cast in iron with his latest project Kingdom Of Heaven. Set during the Crusades, a monumental chapter of history where Europe clashed with the East in a 200-year conflict, he focuses on Balian (Orlando Bloom), a blacksmith who has lost everything; his wife and child are dead and his faith hangs by a thread.
When he meets his inspirational father, Godfrey of Ibelin (Liam Neeson), a legendary knight whose integrity and bravery has earned him his own section of the Holy Land, he regains a sense of meaning to his life. When his father dies, Balian is bestowed the land of Ibelin, which he promises to uphold as he swears to the sacred oath of protecting the helpless, safeguarding the peace and working toward harmony between religions.
Visually the film is as breathtaking as you'd expect. With its vast, busy crowds and Scott's usual attention to detail, medieval Jerusalem appears real, even if the tale itself feels mystical. The battle scenes rival The Lord Of The Rings at times and Bloom has matured into an impossibly handsome hero who, although he lacks Russell Crowe's beefy frame, still cuts it with a sword. And, unlike the fiery Aussie, his face exudes a sensitive side that is needed for the character and which ensures genuine chemistry with love interest Sybilla (Eva Green).
The supporting cast is made up largely of reliable Brits, such as Jeremy Irons, David Thewlis and Neeson who are all competent, if not a little too familiar. Ironically, the best performance is by an actor whose face we see only once, and even then it is unrecognisable. With his soft voice and gentle dialogue, Edward Norton is touching as King Baldwin, the enlightened leader whose leprosy forces him to remain behind a spooky-looking mask. If Scott required one new element to make Kingdom Of Heaven stand out from Gladiator and its pretenders (Troy and Alexander), he has struck gold with this unique character.
Despite his new choice of backdrop, many of Scott's usual preoccupations are touched upon again. Balian is not unlike Gladiator's Maximus, Blade Runner's Deccard and Alien's Ripley, all strong-minded individuals who rise against evil and succeed, despite monumental odds. The director's message is not particularly original, nor is it subtly conveyed, as his protagonist constantly refers to it throughout the two-and-a-half hours. Religion causes all wars. They are as bad as each other and, besides, you don't need to be religious to believe in, or serve, God.
As hackneyed as it is, Scott deserves praise for being brave enough to make a film dealing with Christians vs. Muslims at all. As if the parallels to the war in Iraq were not obvious enough already, there is a reference to it just prior to the end credits, hammering home the desire for peace between religions, which is as ubiquitous now as it ever was. Although it will undoubtedly arouse controversy, many an audience will identify with its values without questioning its historical accuracy, or its heavy-handed portrayal of either side. Is that such a terrible thing?
For fans of Scott's earlier films, his attempts at recreations of historical legacies will never match the imagination of Alien, or the philosophical breadth of Blade Runner. But as a well-meaning and thoroughly entertaining spectacle, Kingdom Of Heaven is masterfully executed and holds up well, despite its long duration.Reviewed on: 06 May 2005