Saturday, May 07, 2005

Kingdom of Heaven

Year: 2005
Dir: Ridley Scott
Screenplay: William Monahan

Stars: ORLANDO BLOOM, Liam Neeson, David Thewlis, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Jon Finch, Edward Norton, Alexander Siddig, Marton Csokas, Ghassan Massoud, Eva Green.

Everybody knows that Ridley Scott is a force to be reckoned with. His visual artistry, attention to detail, and obscure heroes with heart, cut a swathe through cinematic history. So why does it seem out of place to say there’s something amiss with the Kingdom of Heaven?

As far as epics go everything is up there on the screen, expanses of desert, huge battling armies, mesmerising music, dark tones, the hues of a distant time and place. Unfortunately, there is no smooth flow of decent narrative, most of it doesn’t make sense, or to be more polite, the story is a little ‘confused’.

Granted, bums on seats it will surely attract, but I fear that like the Crusader Knights who arrived in Jerusalem in 1187 to find it rather an anti-climax, your average Saturday night crowd will be disappointed with the outcome.

This is not to say that the superior cast has much to do with it. Orlando Bloom, as blacksmith turned Crusader Knight Balian of Ibelin, does a superb job, handling both his religious lines and the sword with a great deal of maturity. Liam Neeson as Godfrey, Belian’s father, is well suited to the role, as is an under used Jeremy Irons as Tiberias, advisor to the king. Out doing them all, bar one, is Marton Csokas as the outlandishly sinister Guy de Lusignan, aka ‘the bad guy’.

The film isn’t based on folklore and myth, but a re-telling of history. On this part it does quite admirably, if not actually teetering on the edge of boredom. Half-way through you may want to answer the call of nature, or get yourself some more popcorn. Go right ahead, you won’t be missing very much. Just make sure you stick around for the man in the iron mask, an un-credited Ed Norton as the leper King Baldwin IV.

The ‘dark ages’ style is enticing, and the script allows for some intricate plotting, but it still falls short. Where there should be exploration and character development, there is none. It’s too busy trying to display its anti-war message that it fails to tell the real story the trailers boast. Even the accurate portrayal of 'Saladin', by Syrian actor Ghassan Massoud, can't raise it.

As the closing subtitles reveal, this is a more political than religious film, but it will surely not fuel enough controversy to make a difference.

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