Kingdom of Heaven Not the Epic It Could Have Been
- Thursday, May 05, 2005
Instead, we are treated to, well, an elf, with no battle experience whatsoever - and even less leadership abilities or military know-how - shrewdly leading a nation into war. Certainly, Bloom is not as bad as he was in Troy, but that isn't saying much. And he has acquired a few muscles. But he's still the same, scrawny guy who couldn't weigh more than 100 pounds, soaking wet. Moreover, Bloom doesn't give us anything in the way of facial expressions - not when his wife dies, not when his father dies, and not when he loses Sibylla. He couldn't even stand next to actors like Mel Gibson (hardly a giant) or Russell Crowe, who would blow him off the set with a mere whisper. Bloom in this film's lead is a casting mistake that may well doom the film, and Scott should know better. Even if it means box office returns, it's absurd to ruin a film in order to cater to the pre-pubescent girls who worship this would-be Hollywood hero.
Neeson, as always, is superb, but we see too little of him. Now there's a real Balian, and who cares if he's "old." Neeson is rugged, he's got presence and the man could act his way out of a dungeon. Then again, no one's hanging his posters on their bedroom walls now, are they? Irons' role seems superfluous, although he handles it well, and Green does a passable, though unremarkable, job with her part, which consists mostly of lusting after Balian through mascara-smeared eyes, then seducing him. There is little chemistry between the couple, however, which ruins this "David and Bathsheba" style storyline.
The most compelling performance of the group comes from the uncredited Norton, who moves us with his compassion, his leadership and his love for his sister. That he remains behind his mask for the entire film only heightens the moment when it is finally stripped off. We feel great pity, yet great admiration, for King Baldwin.
The message of the film is, firstly, that religious authority of any sort is bad. Not only are we treated to the usual stereotype of evil priests, but the one religious man who isn't - the Hospitalier - states, "I put no stock in religion. Under religion, every denomination calls itself the will of God." Unfortunately, "denominations" didn't exist back then (and various religions weren't called that). Moreover, it's highly unlikely that a monk would utter such heresy.
The second part of the film's message is that war is wrong, and that we should all give peace a chance. Godfrey says that he is fighting for "a better world - a land of conscience, where Muslims and Christians get along." What a lovely thought. Let's all join hands and sing a few rounds of "We Are the World."
Ridiculous, too, is the assertion that one of the great warriors in Muslim history (at least since he's been revived, in recent years, and portrayed as such) was really a pacifist. "They try to be one," says one character, describing the Muslims. "One heart, one morality." Yes, with one big shout of "Jihad! Death to all the infidels!"
Of course, this two-dimensional portrayal of Muslims is intended to keep them happy, while the somewhat positive portrayal of Christians is intended to keep us happy - and all of us away from any demonstrations in front of movie theatres. Everyone, that is, except acclaimed author and historian James Reston, Jr., who has publicly accused Scott of lifting material straight from his book, after he optioned it in 2001, rejected it, then made a movie with the exact same plot and characters.
On the other hand, it is nice to see Christians - at least some of them - portrayed as good people. But clearly, for Scott and screenwriter Bill Monahan, whose dialogue sounds like the victim of one too many self-empowerment conferences, "good" Christians must necessarily be pacifists. If Scott wants our admiration - as well as filmmaking that accurately reflects history - perhaps he should portray Christians as both warriors and righteous. Has he heard of the Just War Theory?
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