Saturday, May 7, 2005

Reel To Reel:
Kingdom Of Heaven

How It Rates: **1/2
Starring: Orlando Bloom, Liam Neeson, Eva Green
Rated: R
Red Flags: Ye Olde Copious Violence

Preconceived Notions: Troy, Alexander, and now this Crusades epic.
The Bottom Line: Oh it's beautiful, but get me the scissors. It's time to start cutting.

Director Ridley Scott's latest is about passionate people with passionate beliefs fighting passionate battles filmed with passionate attention to detail. And yet this film lacks so much passion, except in spurts. Worship service at my parents' church has more heart and soul as this film plods along. At times I thought this film could have been called Kingdom of Heaven's Gate, with its sprawling length and mess of multiculturalism.

Bloom is Balian, a blacksmith who's just lost his wife and child. He's estranged from his father, Godfrey (Neeson), who's gone looking for his son after years fighting in one of the many battles of the Crusades. Reluctantly, Bailian follows his father back to Jerusalem, where he is knighted as his father's last act before dying.

Jerusalem's populations of Christians, Jews and Muslims are holding together under a leper King Baldwin IV (Edward Norton). He and the knight Tiberias (Jeremy Irons) defend a shaky truce between crusading knights and Muslims. However, one all-balls-and-no-brains boor of a knight Guy de Lusignan (Marton Csokas) is just itching for a fight to kick out anything without a cross. But attempts to raise hell are futile as long as the king is alive and willing to negotiate with the Muslims led by Saladin (Ghassan Massoud).

However, there's a woman conveniently involved. Sibylla (Green) is Baldwin's sister, heir to the throne with the power to make Guy king. So you can see what's coming just like the great armies in the distance. Yet she loves Bailian, and would marry him if given the chance, which Baldwin is eager to give to stave off Guy getting his seat on a throne.

Bailian, however, needs to be pounded out like the iron he once hammered. Here a man, still obviously in mourning, who doesn't seem to know where his center of gravity is until three-quarters of the way through the picture when he finally delievers his Great Heroic Speech. It's supposed to be a powerful moment, and it is, but more for what it isn't. Bailian doesn't give a sermon but a reality check: "We fight over an offense we did not give, against those who were not alive to be offended." This is where the film shines, when this unlikely knight rises above the radicalism to bring people together. Bloom's character, I should point out, doesn't owe his allegiance to God but rather to defending the helpless.

Much of the strife between Christians and Muslims can be traced back to the Crusades, but Kingdom Of Heaven misses a chance to probe the radicalism, merely saying, "It's God's will," when necessarily. God's Will is used more like an excuse than a bedrock belief. It's God's Will people live. It's God's Will people die. It's God's Will people fight. It's God's Will people surrender. But really, the trouble is that people are cloaking their own ambitions as God's Will.

Kingdom stages battles impossible to get on film without CGI. Gargantuan armies attack and throw firebombs. The attack scenes on Jerusalem are electrifying, along with one earlier scene where the Christian and Muslim armies meet and nearly come to attack.

The film runs a bloated 2 hours and 25 minutes. Twenty-five minutes less and you could've come away with a more dynamic film, still beautifully photographed, and heaven knows more passionate.

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