Kingdom Of Heaven

Film Review by Jeffrey Winters

Ridley Scott directs “Kingdom of Heaven” with a much different tone than his previous epics such as “Gladiator,” “Blade Runner,” or “Black Hawk Down.” Each of his films relies on an angry hero fighting against great odds with ferocious focus and physical strength. But in “Kingdom of Heaven” his star Orlando Bloom lacks the rage that would make a more authentic hero.

Orlando Bloom plays French village blacksmith Balian. When the film opens, Balian is experiencing guilt and despair because his wife broke religious code by committing suicide after losing her baby in childbirth. When he discovers that a priest stole her cross from her dead body he stabs and kills the man. The action requires a rage similar to Russel Crowe in Gladiator. Yet Bloom lacks that emotional range. Later, when he projects humility and compassion, his demeanor rings more true.

Early in the movie, Liam Neeson as knight Sir Godfrey of Ibelin rides into the village and tells Balian he is his bastard son destined to help King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem. He battles alongside his newly discovered son, and before he dies, he bestows knighthood on Balian and sends him to Jerusalem. Every scene with Neeson has power and charisma.

Cinematographer John Matheson and production designer Arthur Max do an incredible job depicting Jerusalem in the year 1186 as a bustling city occupied by the Christians. The Muslims inhabited the city 88 years previous and the story is a prelude to the Crusades where the three monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam fight for control of Jerusalem. Ridley Scott and writer William Monahan deliberately take the history of the Crusades and superimpose a neutral view of both Christians and Muslims. They intentionally avoid demonizing the Muslims. Instead their message is against religious fanaticism of any kind that leads to war and destruction under the guise of “God’s will.”

Both the Christian and Muslim leaders are men of peace. Specifically, King Baldwin IV is in charge of Jerusalem. He has leprosy and wears a silver mask to hide his hideous face. Edward Norton plays the king as a man dedicated to peace and tolerance for all religions. His counterpart is the Muslim leader Saladin beautifully played by Syrian actor and director Ghassan Massoud. Both men have thousands of soldiers at their ready, but these two leaders choose to keep a peaceful détente. This peace is broken when extremists such as Knights Templar Guy de Lasignan (Marton Csokas) start a war with Saladin who quickly slaughters them in the desert.

This act of aggression gives the clever Saladin the motivation and opening to use his superior battle skills and attack Jerusalem. When he attacks, King Baldwin has died of leprosy, and Balian has stepped up as leader and wise protector of the city. Suddenly he morphs into a man with wisdom and superior strategic and fighting skill. During a brutal battle for control of the city, Balian negotiates with Saladin and creates a shift in who occupies Jerusalem. This sets the stage for the next Crusadem.

“Kingdom of Heaven” blends history and fiction to illustrate the continuous battles over Jerusalem. It makes the point that zealotry is dangerous when people hide behind the Divine while killing one another. It’s a well made epic film with a message that speaks to what is taking place today.