September 3, 2013

Movie Review: Kingdom of Heaven (2005)

But remember that, even when those who move you be kings or men of power, your soul is in your keeping alone. When you stand before God you cannot say "but I was told by others to do thus" or that "virtue was not convenient at the time. This will not suffice. Remember that. - King Baldwin IV (Edward Norton)

Director: Ridley Scott

Writer: William Monahan

Producesr: Lisa Ellzey, Terry Needham, Branko Lustig, Ridley Scott

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Major Stars: Orlando Bloom, Liam Neeson, Jeremy Irons, Edward Norton, David Thewlis, Alexander Siddig, Eva Green, Brendan Gleeson

I know I am in the minority here, but I don’t care. I think Kingdom of Heaven is a damn fine film. And Orlando Bloom did a good job in his role of Balian. Deal with it.

Now, I may be biased in favor of this movie. I’m a military history buff and the Crusades are one of my favorite periods. So to see someone the caliber of Ridley Scott attempt to capture the magnitude of this time on film makes me pleased.

But he really did a fine job here. The scope of the film defines the word “epic.” The Siege of Jerusalem at film’s end is amazing to watch and historically accurate in the gear and weaponry the two sides use.

Which isn’t to say that the film is entirely accurate. Truth is, Scott plays around with history a bit. Balian wasn’t a blacksmith but a born-and-bred knight. He was older. He was involved with serious intrigue in the Kingdom of Jerusalem in trying to choose a successor to Baldwin IV’s son.

But more on that in a second. To sum up the film, Balian (Bloom) is a blacksmith in France. His father, Baron Godfrey of Ibelin (Neeson), finds him to bring him to Jerusalem and be his heir. Godfrey dies on the way and Balian becomes the new Lord of Ibelin. He becomes involved with the politics of Jerusalem and grows close to King Baldwin IV and has an affair with his sister, Sybilla. Her husband Guy (the lord of Jerusalem after Baldwin’s death) and his friend, Raynald of Ch√Ętillon, provoke Saladin into a war. They stupidly lead their army into a massacre at Hattin and leave Balian on his own to defend Jerusalem against the approaching army of Saladin.

The cinematography through the film (kudos to John Matheson) is top-notch. Scott shot the film in Morocco , so you really get the feel of what it was like to live in the 12th century in the Crusader Kingdoms. There are sweeping shots of the scenery and of battles (the beginning of the Battle of Kerak being one) that are just so impressive. Combined with a great score (Harry Gregson-Williams) it just enhances the entire experience of the film.

The acting is solid throughout. Bloom does a good job as Balian. People have derided his slight stature, when in reality he wouldn’t have been a hulking mountain of muscle. The real Balian was a smart knight, one of fought with his brain as well as his sword. And Bloom conveyed that nicely. Neeson was great in his short time and Brendan Gleeson is wickedly enjoyable as the detestable Raynald.

And though it may pain a lot of conservative movie-viewers who thought Kingdom of Heaven was an apologia for Islam, Scott got a lot of the characters right. Saladin (played wonderfully by Ghassan Massoud) was the most honorable leader in that region until Richard the Lionheart arrived in the Third Crusade. He indeed did allow most of the residents of Jerusalem to leave alive, in direct contrast to the massacre of Muslims and Jews the Crusaders engaged in when they first captured Jerusalem. That’s a historical fact and certain politically-biased detractors will have to just deal with it. Likewise, Raynald of Ch√Ętillon was a ruthless instigator, violating treaties and massacring innocent Muslim pilgrims and traders to force a major battle between the two forces. And Guy of Lusignan was a conspiring light-weight who was angling for the throne. All of that is true.

That said, and as I said before, Scott took liberties with history. The Ibelins actually wanted Sybilla’s half-sister, Isabella, to take the throne. But her husband was a Guy loyalist and wouldn’t back them. Balian and Sybilla never had an affair, obviously, let alone went back together to France. There is no evidence that Raynald captured and killed Saladin’s sister in a caravan raid. And, of course, the main character of Balian is a fictional construct for the most part. And that does have to be held against the film. The real history was just as interesting, in my opinion.

Nevertheless, Kingdom of Heaven is an enjoyable film to watch. And the Director’s Cut on DVD is even better. With almost an extra hour of footage, it makes a lot of stuff in the film clearer and adds some historical accuracy. It really improves the overall quality of the film.

So where to put it on the list? It’s another film in that Alexander Nevsky / Waterloo zone; a flawed epic that is impressive and visually stunning. If this was the original cut, I’d put it below Waterloo. But the Director’s Cut, which was Scott’s original vision, adds so much depth and emotion to the film that it has to go above it. But placing it above Nevsky doesn’t feel right, so Kingdom of Heaven will (for now) nestle in nicely between them.

Definitely see this movie if you’re interested in the Crusades or like movies where men battle with swords instead of guns. But get the Director’s Cut on DVD; it’s a better film and Scott talks about the liberties he took with the history to create his vision.


Post a Comment


Site of Future Awesomeness

Coming soon.

Site of Future Awesomeness

Coming soon