Opening 5 May 2005
Writing credits: William Monahan
Principal actors: Orlando Bloom, Liam Neeson, Jeremy Irons, Eva Green, Marton Csokas
Master of epics Ridley Scott (Black Hawk Down, Gladiator) takes on a new era of history in Kingdom of Heaven, a film that follows one man’s involvement in the 12th century Crusades. A French blacksmith, Balian (Orlando Bloom), emotionally scarred by the death of his wife and child, discovers that he is the son of a knight (Liam Neeson) and decides to accompany his father to Jerusalem in hopes that he can find some inner peace there. On the journey, he makes unexpected friends and enemies who cause complications once he arrives in the Holy Land. When the King himself asks for Balian’s help, Balian is forced to make difficult choices but finds that, in the end, perhaps he is worthy of his noble blood.
Much of the buzz around Kingdom has questioned the wisdom of releasing a film in this day and age whose central theme is the conflict between Christianity and Islam. While both sides can probably find things to both love and hate about this film, overall I thought Scott presented a balanced view of both Christians and Muslims and their beliefs. The script by William Monahan also touches on interesting philosophical questions about religion, loyalty, honor, and the “greater good”. The acting is excellent with especially strong performances from Bloom (who truly achieves “leading man” status with this film), Neeson, Jeremy Irons as the King’s advisor Tiberias, and David Thewlis as the Hospitaler. The film is also a joy to watch visually, with gorgeous cinematography and magnificent battle sequences, and not too many “wow” special effects scenes that distract rather than add to the story.
In fact, I liked just about everything in this film except the plot – a pretty important piece of the puzzle. Perhaps it was due to my lack of historical knowledge of the Crusades, but I had a lot of trouble following the story: figuring out who was who and why characters did what they did. I also had trouble understanding good portions of the dialogue (a problem shared by my German press colleagues, I think) due to some strong accents. Unfortunately, these two problems detracted quite a bit from all the positives mentioned earlier. In the end, I respect what the filmmakers were trying to accomplish, and I did enjoy the film, but I don’t think Scott quite achieved his goal of portraying heaven on earth. (Kirsten Greco)