Review by: Jack Foley | Rating:
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES (2-DISC): Commentary. Inside Look:
Tristan and Isolde. HBO First Look. 6 featurettes. Orlando Bloom
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HAVING conquered the barbaric extremes of the Coliseum in Gladiator,
Ridley Scott now shifts his focus to the brutality of The Crusades
in Kingdom of Heaven, a compelling, if flawed epic that seems
uncannily relevant to some of the suffering in the world today.
Scott's message is that religion - no matter what denomination
- can be used as an excuse to commit terrible evil, while salvation
can just as easily be found in the deeds of a few good men.
One such man is French blacksmith, Balian (Orlando Bloom), a
father still mourning the loss of his wife and young son, who
agrees to travel to Jerusalem in the hope of absolving his sins.
Seeking the guidance of his new-found father, Godfrey of Ibelin
(Liam Neeson), Balian undertakes an oath to serve a doomed king
and protect the people of Jerusalem from the overwhelming forces
amassing against it, even though enemies from within the city's
own walls seem hellbent on provoking the bloodshed.
Set against such a turbulent history, it is little wonder to
find that Kingdom of Heaven occasionally buckles under the weight
of its own ambition.
Several of the story arcs seem under-developed, while the early
part of the film feels particularly episodic (as Balian loses
his father, becomes shipwrecked, makes a name for himself in a
duel and then inherits his father's land).
What's more, William Monahan's over-earnest screenplay frequently
lets down his performers, reducing them to cliched heroes and
villains who spout uninspired rhetoric.
Bloom, especially, appears to be
struggling with a weak script that merely serves to expose his
inexperience as a leading man, while the likes of Eva Green (as
a forbidden love-interest and future Queen of Jerusalem) and David
Thewlis (as a Crusader) are afforded too little screen-time to
make much of an impression.
Yet as flawed as certain aspects of the film remain, audiences
should still be appeased by the sheer breathtaking spectacle of
proceedings, as well as the underlying message that contains plenty
of relevance for modern times.
During its action sequences, in particular, the film excels,
providing a number of realistic battles in which viewers can practically
smell the death surrounding them.
While the final siege of Jerusalem develops into a fascinating
and bloody battle of wits between the unshakeable Balian and his
noble counterpart, Saladin (played impressively by Syrian actor,
There are even some performances to enjoy, too, which rise above
the shortcomings of the script to provide a little more substance
to the spectacle.
Jeremy Irons is especially memorable as the noble Godfrey, who
struggles to prevent the loss of his beloved Jerusalem, while
a masked Edward Norton registers strongly as the doomed king.
So while Kingdom of Heaven struggles to realise the high standards
set by Gladiator, it remains a mighty epic in its own right that
works in spite of its weaknesses.
It provides the spectacle that is associated with a Ridley Scott
production as well as something to consider for anyone not blinded
by the religious squabbles surrounding it.
Running time: 2hrs 20mins