Kingdom of Heaven Review
By Joe Lozito
During the final nearly 40 minute battle for Jerusalem in Ridley Scott's Crusade epic "Kingdom of Heaven", I found myself yawning and checking my watching on multiple occasions. It's not that there wasn't a lot happening on screen. Truly, Mr. Scott is a master at staging epic battles. His use of practical extras rather than CGI is also much appreciated. And the problem isn't that we've become accustomed or desensitized to sprawling, bloody epics (thank you, Peter Jackson). It's just that there was no one to root for. Or, more precisely, there were only people to root for.
With "Kingdom of Heaven", Hollywood's latest sword-and-sandal epic, the man who brought us "Gladiator", still the recent high watermark for the genre, attempts to create a tale of the Crusades without offending anyone. With the exception of a few extremists, the characters in "Kingdom" - Christian and Muslim alike - are so progressive in their thinking, I find it hard to understand how the Crusades ever happened. According to this story, it seems that no one at the time was particularly religious. Everyone had doubts, from the King to the priests to the peasants. And no one, not the Christians, not the Muslims, actually wanted to fight.
Further lacking from the film is a central character to follow on this two and a half hour journey. I don't dislike Orlando Bloom, I just think he's a weak actor. He was prancingly convincing as Legolas, in "The Lord of the Rings" but, as he demonstrated in the abysmal "Troy", he doesn't exude gladiatorial strength. His character, Balian, is a blacksmith questing to Jerusalem to seek forgiveness for his wife's suicide. Along the way he ends up falling into the command of the Christian army. But Mr. Bloom is not a convincing commander, even with an extra 25 pounds of muscle. He's given not one but two St. Crispin's Day speeches, but even with oh-so-mussed hair and dirty makeup, he's still a pretty boy playing dress up. Whereas you believed Russell Crowe could equally lead troops as well as get his hands dirty, Mr. Bloom seems more at home watching longingly from the sidelines. The fault is not entirely on the actor, though. To be fair, his character is not given a convincing or interesting arc in the script.
Mr. Bloom is surrounded by a cast of skilled actors in short performances. Liam Neeson creates another in a line of characters that radiate quiet nobility. Jeremy Irons gives an interestingly growly turn as Tiberias. Eva Green is appropriately beautiful as Sibylla, daughter to the King and wife of wannabe king, Guy de Lusignan (Marton Csokas). Saladin, the leader of the Muslims is given such a fine, reverent portrayal by Ghassan Massoud it would have seemed that Guy de Lusignan would make a perfect villain. But Mr. Csokas's fine performance is wasted by a script that leaves him hanging.
Perhaps the film-stealing performance, however, belongs to an uncredited Edward Norton as the leper King Baldwin. Working behind a mask for the entirety of the film, Mr. Norton creates a passionate memorable character with his few scenes. Interestingly, both the mask and Mr. Norton's slurred intonation bring to mind one of the actor's idols, Marlon Brando.
But if you're not interested in the plot contrivances, there's plenty of hacking and chopping and spurting. We already know Mr. Scott knows his way around a good severed artery, but by making the Crusades basically a giant misunderstanding, the audience is left rooting not for a victor but for an end to it all. And maybe that's what Mr. Scott, a knight himself, working from a script by William Monahan, was going for. There are obvious parallels to current world affairs, and that's a fine message for a film, just not this film. At one point in "Kingdom", Balian is effectively offered everything he ever wanted. He quickly turns it down. Unfortunately, his denial makes no sense. Nothing in the film has prepared us, or him, for this offer, so it carries no weight. Nor, sadly, does the rest of the film.