KINGDOM OF HEAVEN (Ridley Scott, 2005)
In search of forgiveness for his deceased wife and his sins, French blacksmith Balian (Orlando Bloom), the bastard son of Godfrey, the Baron of Ibelin (Liam Neeson), treks to 12 century Jerusalem. An unlikely hero commanded to help the helpless and do no wrong, Balian rises to protect Jerusalem’s people during the Crusades in Ridley Scott's KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. Under the rule of leper king Baldwin (Edward Norton, unrecognizable behind a silver mask), holy land Christians and Muslims coexist in relative harmony, although Baldwin’s failing health and the ascension of his presumed successor, brother-in-law Guy de Lusignan (Marton Csokas), portend much bloodshed in the name of God.
While Bloom does not fit the action hero mold or possess the gravitas of Russell Crowe, the vengeance-seeking protagonist of Scott’s GLADIATOR, those qualities aren’t essential to his character. He’s credible swinging a sword, but the reluctant warrior Balian wields his weapon only when circumstances demand he fight. Supporting cast members Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, David Thewlis, and Neeson lend their iconic presences to this history lesson. THE DREAMERS’ Eva Green, here as the princess Sibylla, is relegated to a brief, obligatory love scene and little else.
Like Balian, KINGDOM OF HEAVEN doesn’t take sides in the holy conflict, a tactic that allows Scott and screenwriter William Monahan to depict ideological warfare without inflaming believers of either faith. The assault on and defense of Jerusalem, the film’s tour de force action sequence, concludes with a God’s eye view of the intermingled corpses of Christian and Muslim men, leaving an indelible impression of the price paid when any religion is twisted in pursuit of political and monetary gain. The somber KINGDOM may not provide an epic’s anticipated escapism, but it serves as a salient reminder that hundreds of years later these battles are still being waged.