EPIC WAR WITH RELIGIOUS TWIST
I no longer get excited when it comes to long epic/war movies, and those who've seen many of the recent ones probably, like me, go into each subsequent adventure with a chip of skepticism on their shoulder. I was kinder than most in my non-recommendation of Troy (C+) and above-and-beyond nicer than most in my just-barely recommendation of Alexander (B-).
I did have much higher hopes for "Kingdom of Heaven," because we are talking about Ridley Scott here, the mastermind behind "Gladiator." So it's fair to say I was disappointed. Slightly underwhelmed by this lumbering tale of disgrace and redemption.
The movie opens with the self-reserved Balian (Orlando Bloom…again), a blacksmith in a hillside French village where he pounds away at burning steel and iron to no end as if there were people in his deserted town in need of his services. Tragedy has recently hit home with the death of his wife, and even worse, the death of his daughter who took her own life, a big no-no in the Christian community.
Balian is visited by Sir Godfrey (Liam Neeson), a legendary knight returning from the Middle East who has come to take Balian back to Jerusalem where sins are forgiven and a new life awaits.
Finding the place is quite simple: "Go to where they speak Italian, and then keep going until they speak something else."
By the laws of Hollywood redemption stories, Balian is first obligated to refuse the journey until an unpleasant event sends him for the Holy Land. In addition, an unknown connection between Godfrey and Balian leaves him little choice.
At the time, Jerusalem was ruled by the young but ailing King Baldwin (Edward Norton), who has been grossly disfigured by leprosy and forced to hide his face behind a silver mask which suggests a much more intimidating ruler than what the highly revered king is.
His health rapidly begins to decline and soon the king is awaiting his passing. With the keys to the throne Balian assembles an army of mostly peasants to defend the holy city against Saladin (Ghassan Massoud) and his massive Muslim army quickly approaching on the horizon.
Because the lead is played by Orlando Bloom, a budding romance is only natural. Here he is paired with Sibylla (Eva Green), King Baldwin's sister. The relationship is automatic but since the story really isn't about these two we can forgive the skipping of the details, and frankly we're better off without them.
The final battle scene between the Christians and Muslims is pretty standard compared to today's epics. Maybe in the pre-Lord of the Rings days such spectacles would be more entertaining, but by now we've seen the horse-charging routine, flying fireballs and siege towers sending doomed soldiers over the great walls; so much so that we are eagerly awaiting the next film to raise the bar.
An unexpectedly touching scene takes place when Baldwin and Saladin meet face-to-face with both armies on either side awaiting orders. This discussion is crucial because one word could mean the deaths of literally thousands of men if they chose to fight, or the sparing of those lives if they chose to reach a peace deal. That they act like gentlemen regardless of the end result shows a sign of respect and valor not heard of today between the two conflicting religions.
It's hard to believe that once these two groups of completely different men worshiped together on the same land, at least for a little while, without conflict. And when they did fight, it was for what they believed in, and the bloodshed was just part of the process. Moreover, each side knew the other had also had a legitimate stake in the race, unlike today which is about zero compromise. Maybe one day, as Balian already denied back in 1200, the Kingdom of Heaven will be worth living in.