Kingdom of Heaven
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Ridley Scott
scr William Monahan
with Orlando Bloom, Eva Green, Jeremy Irons, Liam Neeson, David Thewlis, Brendan Gleeson, Marton Csokas, Edward Norton, Alexander Siddig, Ghassan Massoud, Kevin McKidd, Ulrich Thomsen, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Jon Finch, Michael Sheen, Iain Glen
release UK/US 6.May.05
05/UK Fox 2h25

On a crusade: Bloom, Jouko Ahola and Neeson


green irons thewlis

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Kingdom of Heaven Ridley Scott reassembles virtually the entire Gladiator crew for another swords-and-sandals epic, this time set during the Crusades in 1184. It's a gorgeous-looking film, expertly orchestrated and extremely watchable. But it's also both uninvolving and exhausting.

After committing a crime in the throes of grief over his dead wife, French blacksmith Bailian (Bloom) discovers he's the son of a celebrated knight (Neeson). In search of redemption, he sets off for Jerusalem, where he becomes engulfed in local politics that pit Christian against Arab (where are the Jews?*). The struggle is between the voices of reason (Irons' world-weary Tiberias and Norton channelling Marlon Brando as the masked, leprous King Baldwin) and the warmongers (Csokas and Gleeson). Bailian's extremely strong integrity is put to the test, especially when he falls for the woman (Green) in the middle.

There are a couple of fundamental flaws here. First is Monahan's script, which leans toward thrusting expressions of machismo and corny emotion rather than any real character development. Like both Troy and Alexander, this leaves the film without a firm foundation; it's impossible to engage emotionally on any level. It's like watching a museum history film, although the plot is a bit suspect, since it's clearly been written to appeal to 21st century movie audiences, complete with heavy-handed moralising and obvious parallels to Bush-era politics.

The other problem is unoriginality. Scott's direction is of course strikingly visual, with first-rate effects and iconic, magnetic actors. But the battle imagery and story structure are so reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings (with Bloom now in the Aragorn role, complete with scruffy stubble) that we keep waiting for elfs or ents to come to the rescue. And it's choppily edited, with characters randomly appearing and disappearing. Fortunately, the cast is strong. Bloom doesn't yet have the range to make something out of nothing (see Irons for that), but he holds the film's centre with sheer brawny physicality and lots of stern scowls. No one else gets much to work with, but together they add up to a watchable ensemble. It's just a pity we never feel anything for them.

cert 15 themes, strong violence 27.Apr.05

*The Jews were actually exiled by the Crusaders and did not return to have a presence in Jerusalem until after Salah al-Din recaptured the city, and then permitted them to return. óMark A, net (7.May.05)
R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... Kingdom of Heaven Asriel, Ireland: 4.5/5 "The best post-lotr epic so far. amazing visuals without CGI overkill. In fact, Scott blurs the line in the that regard. It was very hard to distingiush CG from reality. He manages to inject freshness and originality into a flagging genre. The swooping crane shot of a seemingly endless army, done so many times before, gave me the chilly willys. Of course it was let down in some departments. Bloom grew up and just about managed to hold the film together, but a performance with genuine passion and drive would have made the movie a classic. The corny, rousing speeches didn't help either. Still a magnificent film nonetheless." (2.May.05)
© 2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall