Review: Kingdom of Heaven (2005)

Kingdom of Heaven

Kingdom of Heaven

Rating



Director

Ridley Scott

Screenplay

William Monahan

Length

145 min.

Starring

David Thewlis, Liam Neeson, Orlando Bloom, Marton Csokas, Alexander Siddig, Velibor Topic, Eva Green, Brenda Gleeson, Jeremy Irons, Edward Norton, Ghassan Massoud

MPAA Rating

R (For strong violence and epic warfare)

Buy/Rent Movie

Soundtrack

Poster

Review

Wars of faith have long been a part of human history. The Crusades were the supreme example. Kingdom of Heaven tackles a small segment of those terrible wars against the Muslims centering around an idealistic young blacksmith.

Balian (Orlando Bloom) grew up without a father. We don’t see this history as director Ridley Scott starts us at the grave of his dead wife where a Templar knight passes by seeking the young Balian. Godfrey (Liam Neeson) reveals to Balian that he is his father and asks forgiveness for not being there when he was growing up.

Balian soon finds himself traveling to a Greek port where he will sail across the sea to his father’s lands just outside of Jerusalem. There he meets the film’s antagonist Guy de Lusignan (Marton Csokas) who leers at him unpleasantly shortly before his father’s death.

After Balian arrives in Israel, he meets the beautiful Sibylla (Eva Green), sister of King Baldwin (Edward Norton) and soon takes control of his late father’s lands where he must resurrect the drought plagued village.

Kingdom of Heaven does not hold off on its use of cliché. From the revelation of fatherhood (does anyone in the movies have a father that they grew up knowing?) to the impassioned speeches just prior to a hopeless battle, screenwriter William Monahan does his best to keep Scott’s vehicle stuck in neutral.

This was Monahan’s first film, so perhaps he doesn’t understand the potential for religious debate in this type of picture. Instead, he seems to focus on mad-lib-style epic screenwriting. Scott, however, certainly should know better. It is perhaps easy to say that Scott is only good when his writers are good. Films like Blade Runner and Thelma & Louise display Scott’s ability to bring out the flavor of the story. However, Kingdom of Heaven feels more like a continuation of Gladiator in a different part of the world.

The one good thing anyone can say about Scott’s film is that it paints the Muslims in a good light instead of the typical stereotyping that goes on with this type of story. This is perhaps because it’s the Catholic Church and the greedy Guy de Lusignan that are the villains, not the Muslims or the Jews. Scott is better with more intimate tales. Anything that involves lots of fighting is bound to get mired down in plot.

The actors haven’t even proven they are up to the challenge. Bloom, whose heartthrob status has been confirmed by his success in films like Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean , has yet to prove he can carry a film as an actor instead of a sex symbol. As a matter of fact, Kingdom of Heaven is so much a film about the character Balian that it rests entirely on his frail shoulders to carry through and he cannot.

Even Neeson, whose wonderful performances in Schindler’s List and last year’s Kinsey , has failed to ignite the picture. It falls instead to David Thewlis as Godfrey’s faithful Hospitaler to heighten the talent of the picture. The rest of the cast Csokas (continuously leers at everyone), Jeremy Irons (does nothing but chew scenery) and Gleeson (hams it up as a bloodthirsty suck-up) are merely caricatures of real people.

There’s an audience for Kingdom of Heaven it’s just difficult to know where to find them. As Scott continues his onslaught of lackluster pictures, it makes one wonder if he can ever be as terrific as he was in the eighties again.

Review Written

June 19, 2005

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