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Kingdom of Heaven (15)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES (2-DISC): Commentary. Inside Look: Tristan and Isolde. HBO First Look. 6 featurettes. Orlando Bloom Visit Reel. Trailers and TV spots. Interactive Production Grid.

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, Ghassan Massoud).

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

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