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Kingdom of Heaven

Kingdom of Heaven is best examined through Orlando Bloom's character of Balian as everyone and everything revolves around this blacksmith cum knight cum saviour of the crusades.

One of the contrivances of the script is that everyone who encounters Balian immediately reveals to him their true character (if not always their identity). People declare their love or loyalty or respect or hatred within seconds of meeting him.

At the same time Bloom's Balian, despite what should be a compelling backstory and motivation - he joins the crusades to redeem the soul of his wife, a suicide, and after cold-bloodedly killing a priest - comes across as rather bland and uninvolved, and therefore uninvolving.

I never found it believable that he should rise to a position of respect and responsibility so quickly, or how a blacksmith should become such a master strategist, able to hold at bay two hundred thousand men led by the Muslim uniter, Saladin.

And Bloom, in the "Braveheart" scenes where he rallies his troops, seems more like a boy playing at being a soldier than a soldier fulfilling his destiny as commander.

As a result Balian isn't so much the centre of the story as he is the focal point around which other, more interesting characters, weave theirs. And really, every supporting actor - Liam Neeson as Balian's father; Jeremy Irons as the nobleman on Balian's side; Edward Norton as the leprosy-afflicted Christian king Baldwin; Eva Green as Sybella, Baldwin's sister and wife to Marton Csokas as Guy, the future king; Brendan Gleeson as Guy's co-conspirator; Ghassan Massoud as Saladin and Alexander Siddig as Saladin's right-hand man - everyone one of these actors draws a more interesting portrait than Bloom, even though they have a fraction of his screen time.

As a Star Trek fan I'm pleased to report that this is Alexander Siddig's best performance (that I've seen). He was never the finest actor on Deep Space Nine but here his Nasir is compelling and convincing and parsecs from Julian Bashir.

I note in passing that Kingdom of Heaven - with its portrayal of the Muslim culture, the parallels it draws between faiths and the manufactured casus belli - could be seen as a subtle parable for modern times, though that could be reading false meaning into the movie.

The battle scenes, with the siege of Jerusalem being the major set piece, are splendidly realised. The sets and sequences have a scope, texture and verisimilitude easily surpassing that of Ridley Scott's Gladiator, the obvious companion piece to this film. Tens of thousands of men behind stone walls hold off hundreds of thousands in the film's third act, and so also bears comparison with The Two Towers... and beats the memorable battle of Helms Deep for realism (if not choreography)

And yet, there is nothing at stake personally for anyone. Character arcs never climax as intensely as the battles and then resolve in cliches. Maybe that's why the movie felt short... there should have been more character development between the fight scenes, notably for Balian, who remains a cypher. Supposedly he feels that God is not on his side even in the cradle of Christianity's birth, and then is told (by his ostensible enemy no less) that God surely must be, in light of his achievements. Yet this loss of faith never hits home like it should, nor is the affirmation in any way cathartic.

Maybe the the film's opening scene where (presumably) we are meant to feel the impact of Balian's wife's death - like that of Saving Private Ryan - was meant to resonate throughout the movie. Maybe, but I doubt it. (Unfortunately I can't say for sure as I walked into the movie a few minutes late and surmise the events and intent of that scene from the cast list.)

Speaking of climaxes - Kingdom of Heaven out of (I presume) historical necessity - has to manufacture a strange one where a major surrender is celebrated as a victory. I actually applaud the message that's being sent here - that saving lives is more worthy than saving property - but it goes against the grain of your typical war movie. This is a good thing of course.

Technically Kingdom of Heaven is a bloody (no pun intended) impressive achievement. Dramatically it's watchable but unremarkable. The most moving moment for me came quite early on where the two kings, two noble men, each backed by the arms of hundreds of thousands eager for blood, meet each other and come to terms of accommodation, seeking to avoid needless war.


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Comments (1)

Nice review on the movie. I have been tossing up whether to see it or not. The subject matter interests me - just after Alexander, Troy and a bunch of other flops of Epic Adventures, I am being a little cautious.

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