Kingdom of Heaven Not the Epic It Could Have Been
- Thursday, May 05, 2005
Release Date: May 6, 2005
Rating: R (for strong violence and epic warfare)
Run Time: 145 min.
Director: Ridley Scott
Actors: Orlando Bloom, Eva Green, Liam Neeson, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson
In these days of political correctness, you can't help but wonder what historical movies might look like if filmmakers could move beyond their personal, political agendas and tell stories the way they actually happened. It's as if they are somehow afraid that we might actually learn from history, as opposed to learning from them.
It's 1186 in a small French town, during the Second and Third Crusades, and a young blacksmith by the name of Balian (Orlando Bloom) has lost his wife and child - along with his faith. The child's death, from illness, prompted the suicide of Balian's wife. Soon after, a band of knights arrive, led by Godfrey of Ibelin (Liam Neeson). Godfrey announces that he is Balian's father, thanks to an illicit love affair with Balian's mother, and asks Balian to become a Crusader. Balian refuses, but when a self-satisfied, sanctimonious priest taunts Balian about his wife's eternal condemnation, Balian kills the man with a fire-soaked piece of iron and joins Godfrey on the road to Jerusalem, hoping to find the oft-promised redemption of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Balian receives a few sword lessons from his fellow soldiers and mercenaries, under the watchful eye of the Hospitalier (David Thewlis), a knight-confessor from an order of monks created in the 11th century to cater to the needs of Christian pilgrims in the Holy Land. After Godfrey is mortally wounded in a surprise ambush, he knights Balian and tells him that his mission is to keep the peace in Jerusalem.
Given the factions among Christians in the ancient city, that's easier said than done. Tiberias (Jeremy Irons, with a bad scar), the king's trusted advisor and marshal of Jerusalem's army, believes that war is wrong and that the way to righteousness is peace. Guy de Lusignan (Martin Csokas) is another commander who believes in fighting to the death to keep Jerusalem from the Muslim vermin. Of course, there's also a woman - de Lusignan's betrothed, Sibylla (newcomer Eva Green), the king's sister who falls madly in lust with Balian, on first sight. (Why, one can only wonder.)
It's all held tenuously together by the peace-loving King Baldwin IV (Edward Norton), who is dying of leprosy and who hides behind a slew of artistic, silver masks, never showing his face or hands. The other peacenik is the infamous Muslim warrior, Saladin (Ghassan Massoud), who just hates that he has to fight the Christians, because he really doesn't believe in it, either. But hey, they were the ones who struck first. Such a shame. Also, although we're in Jerusalem, we don't meet any Jews. One can only presume that they are hiding from the indomitable, charismatic, terrifying Bloom.
In the end, Balian becomes a confidant of the king and righteously refuses his offer of Sibylla in marriage (which would mean de Lusigan's death), even though he is sleeping with her. He reluctantly leads a ragtag group of would-be warriors into battle against Saladin and, though he never finds faith, still finds his destiny - typically, from a Muslim leader, to whom he speaks in Arabic.
Without a doubt, the Crusades were a doomed and sinful mission from the start. They led to some of the bloodiest, most prolonged conflict in world history, and they are hard to justify on any grounds - particularly Christian. That being said, it's absurd to think that the tens of thousands of men who participated on both sides of these battles did so under the auspices of a few misguided, warmonger Christians. What a shame that director Ridley Scott couldn't see beyond his political agenda to portray these men as they really were. Only in today's world could a director make a war film about pacifists and actually be taken seriously - much less hope that the film would become an epic blockbuster. While Scott (Gladiator, Black Hawk Down) strives to portray both sides "fairly," it's fair in the eyes of a 21st century audience made up, one would have to assume, of liberals who believe that war is wrong, under any circumstances.
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