It is the time of the Crusades during the Middle Ages - the world shaping 200-year collision between Europe and the East. A blacksmith named Balian has lost his family and nearly his faith. The religious wars raging in the far-off Holy Land seem remote to him, yet he is pulled into that immense drama. Amid the pageantry and intrigues of medieval Jerusalem he falls in love, grows into a leader, and ultimately uses all his courage and skill to defend the city against staggering odds. Destiny comes seeking Balian in the form of a great knight, Godfrey of Ibelin, a Crusader briefly home to France from fighting in the East. Revealing himself as Balian's father, Godfrey shows him the true meaning of knighthood and takes him on a journey across continents to the fabled Holy City. In Jerusalem at that moment--between the Second and Third Crusades--a fragile peace prevails, through the efforts of its enlightened Christian king, Baldwin IV, aided by his advisor Tiberias, and the military ... Written by
Sujit R. Varma
In 1935, Cecil B. DeMille made his famous epic "The Crusades" on one of the back lots of Hollywood. What a change in the Ridley Scott film "Kingdom of Heaven" of 2005 with the technical wizardry of a new era! Although it is not a perfect film, it is nonetheless skillfully crafted and well worth the time of any film-goer in our current, troubled age.
From the visual and technical standpoint, "Kingdom of Heaven" is masterful. The recreation of medieval France and the city of Jerusalem were tremendous technical achievements. The French landscape recalls the region around medieval Clermont and Vézelay where Pope Urban and Bernard of Clairvaux delivered their momentous calls to arms for the first two Crusades. And in the recreation of Jerusalem, the film artists truly drew us into the twelfth-century walled city with sacred roots in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. Much credit should go to cinematographer John Mathieson, costume designer Janty Yates, and all of the film's art directors. The film's events spanned the era between the Second and Third Crusades, and the evocation of this epoch was simply spectacular.
In the genre of the epic film, the leading actor is crucial, as in the unforgettable performances of "Lawrence of Arabia" (Peter O'Toole), "Tess" (Nastassja Kinski), and "Bridge on the River Kwai" (Alec Guiness). One weakness of "Kingdom of Heaven" is leading performer Orlando Bloom. Although this young actor has fine screen presence, his performance was subdued and monochromatic. The Crusaders were driven by zeal, and Bloom's character Balian seems mired in melancholia following the death of his infant child and the subsequent suicide of his wife. Bloom's character does not even evolve much even after arriving in Jerusalem, he falls in love with the mysterious Sibylla. Neither courtly love nor the fires of faith could ignite much passion in Bloom. As Sibylla, Eva Green also seemed out of place in this film. A close historical prototype for her character was the formidable Eleanor of Aquitaine, who accompanied her husband King Louis on the Second Crusade, during which Eleanor allegedly had a torrid love affair with her uncle Raymond of Antioch. But Eva Green's character seemed closer to a young woman from the twenty-first century, as opposed to the twelfth.
Other performances were stronger, including those of Liam Neeson as Balian's father, Jeremy Irons as Tiberias, and Edward Norton as the King. Those actors really resembled medieval knights. Norton's characterization of a king struggling with leprosy and forced to wear a mask was one of the most sensitive character portraits since Ralph Fiennes' role as "The English Patient." Norton's characterization offers a glimpse into the softer side of the great medieval knights, such as the legendary Richard the Lionheart, a poet and troubadour, as well as a king. Ghassan Massoud also merits praise for his portrayal of Saladin as not only a brilliant general, but a figure of great dignity.
One of the themes of the excellent screenplay was that of honor. The actions of the main character of Balian were guided by honor. And the character of Saladin was portrayed as an individual of great moral rectitude. The Western cultural heritage of chivalry, courtly love, and honor filtered into Europe through Islamic traditions, which "Kingdom of Heaven" clearly acknowledges. There is a powerful sequence in the film where Saladin discovers a small Christian cross that has toppled over. He takes the time to pick up the fallen cross and set it aright. In a film filled with special effects and spectacular scenes of siege warfare, that moment of simplicity stands out as a brilliant cinematic moment.
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