Despite sweeping battles, Crusades epic lacks fire
"I am your father," intones noble knight Liam Neeson, in his best Jedi tones. Um ... which galaxy are we in? This particular moment, early...
Seattle Times movie critic
"I am your father," intones noble knight Liam Neeson, in his best Jedi tones.
Um ... which galaxy are we in?
This particular moment, early on in Ridley Scott's epic "Kingdom of Heaven," is indicative of the movie's essential problem: Much of it feels strangely familiar. Though it's made with care and skill, and features some breathtaking spectacle, it never really differentiates itself from numerous other ancient-history (and other) epics, mostly notably Scott's own "Gladiator," and the recent "King Arthur," "Troy" and "Alexander."
"Kingdom of Heaven," set during the Crusades and featuring Orlando Bloom as a blacksmith-turned-knight/warrior, never dips to "Alexander" levels of dreadfulness, but it all too rarely soars.
Perhaps this kind of movie has simply run its course (consider the dismal box-office numbers for "Alexander," which deserved it, and "Troy," which didn't entirely). Perhaps we've all seen a few too many slow-motion arrows — or perhaps Scott's pale by comparison to, say, those of Zhang Yimou, whose flying weaponry in "House of Flying Daggers" and "Hero" achieved a kind of poetry. Perhaps Bloom lacks the gravitas and hint of menace that, say, Russell Crowe brings.
In any case, "Kingdom of Heaven" remains mostly uninvolving; a movie you admire for its craft rather than enjoying for its passion.Bloom, surely a cover candidate for "Medieval Europe's Hottest Blacksmiths" magazine, gives a quiet, thoughtful performance; you can't really point to anything wrong with what he's doing, but he lacks a certain fire. (The problem may be in the writing: Balian, the blacksmith, is virtuous but a tad bland.)
After learning the identity of his knight father, Godfrey of Ibelin (Neeson), Balian leaves with him for the Holy Land to help the Christian king, Baldwin IV, achieve peace. In Jerusalem, he falls in love with the king's sister Sybella (a surly-looking Eva Green, otherwise known as The Film's Token Woman), faces vast Muslim armies, and proves himself a hero.
William Monahan's screenplay, sensitive to the implications of making a film in which dark-skinned non-Christians are the enemy, takes care to treat both sides respectfully; indeed, the only real villain is a requisite power-hungry aristocrat (Marton Csokas).
Otherwise, everyone's pretty noble (or, in the case of Bloom, pretty and noble), with blessed little comic relief. When Neeson's tough knight delivers the immortal line "I once spent two days with an arrow through my testicle," you feel inordinately grateful; it's not the prettiest of images, but at least it's something vivid.
Director of photography John Mathieson ("Gladiator") does some impressive work; there's one particularly lovely desert scene where a thundering army on horseback emerges, shimmering, like a mirage. And the image of King Baldwin, a leper hiding behind a strangely sinister silver mask, is haunting.
"Kingdom of Heaven" moves along, from battle to battle, leaving bodies and blood behind and virtue rewarded. At the end, we're reminded that "nearly 1,000 years later, peace in the Kingdom of Heaven remains elusive." So does the idea of a great movie about the Crusades; for now, we'll have to settle for a competent one.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org