By Carter B. Horsley
Imagine a remake of "The Seventh Seal"
(see The City Review article) in color.
That is the way Ridley Scott's impressive "Kingdom
of Heaven" begins: somber but beautiful, magisterial but
not mystical, intellectual and brutally realistic.
Before long, Scott throws in some wondrous
special effects, some love interest, a leper king, some pious
savagery and creates a stirring epic about a crusade in the Middle
Ages and a war between Muslims and Christians over Jerusalem.
Its sweeping spectacles of clashing armies
and catapulted fireballs are memorable.
Ridley Scott was the director of "Bladerunner"
(see The City Review), "Alien"
(see The City Review) and "Gladiator,"
so we expect him to be provocative, scary and monumental and he
doesn't disappoint in "Kingdom of Heaven." It is movie
that tackles a current problem: the relationship between Muslims
and Christians. It is a movie that lets blood gush and splash.
It is a movie that overwhelms the viewer with magnificent vistas
and the terror of combating hordes.
The movie is based a bit in the history of
Saladin's siege of Jerusalem in the late 12th Century and its
strength is in its historical settings and recreations rather
than its characters who are a bit puzzling. The movie's fast pace,
however, keeps its flaws from distracting from its awe-arousement.
This is a grand epic that harshly depicts Christian
zealots and portrays the Muslim leader as a man of fairness. Its
message is that religiosity has its dangers and that tolerance,
and, more importantly, good works are the highest goals.
The hero of the movie is Balian, a blacksmith
in England whose wife commits suicide, which leads him to kill
a priest who had stolen her crucifix. Shortly after he murders
the priest, a knight, Godfrey, arrives with his entourage and
tells him that he is his father and urges him to join him when
he goes back to Jerusalem. The blacksmith, played by Orlando Bloom,
rejects him and decides not to join him. The knight, played by
Liam Neeson, departs, but the blacksmith changes his mind because
he thinks that his father's admonition to do good works might
assuage his guilt for commiting murder.
The knight gives his son lessons in wielding
large and heavy swords and not too soon as his troop is confronted
with English soldiers in pursuit of the blacksmith for the murder.
A horrendous fight ensues and the knight is wounded and soon publicly
bequeaths his title, baron, and property to his son, who continues
on to Jerusalem.
Balian is accosted by two men on horseback
who claim his horse. He fights and kills one of them who had been
described by the other as a very great warrior and the other,
played by Ghassan Massoud, then agrees to be his slave and take him to Jerusalem.
In Jerusalem, Balian is warmly greeted by Tiberias,
Jeremy Irons, who is the Christian leader of Jerusalem and close
advisor to King King Baldwin, played by Edward Horton. The king
wears a silver mask because he is a leper. His sister, Sibylla,
played by Eva Green, has already met Balian and flirted with him
although she is married to Guy de Lusignan, played by Martin Scokas.
Saladin has gathered an army of 200,000 and
is set to besiege Jerusalem.
Balian is given the task of defending the city.
The acting by and large is superb.
Eva Green is very beautiful but seems to develop
freckles as the movie progresses and near the end her hands seem
to have leopard spots, which perhaps suggests she will suffer
from leprosy as her brother had. While her role seems primarily
to provide some romance to the film, her character is complex
and her presence adds considerable magic.
Bloom does an admirable job as Balian and Neeson
and Irons are impressive.
The film suffers from some too fortuitous and
convenient happenstances but the cinematography of John Mathieson
is consistently stunning.
Despite some flaws, this is a breathtaking
and quite magnificent epic.
This film ranks 240th in Carter B. Horsley's
Top 500 Sound Films.