The story of the first major battle of the American phase of the Vietnam War and the soldiers on both sides that fought it, while their wives wait nervously and anxiously at home for the good news or the bad news.
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
Credit the director and writer for balancing the guilt and horror among Christians, Jews, and Arabs.
"There was a Knight, a most distinguished man, Who from the day on which he first began To ride abroad had followed chivalry, Truth, honour, generousness and courtesy. He had done nobly in his sovereign's war And ridden into battle, no man more, As well in Christian as in heathen places, And ever honoured for his noble graces."
Chaucer, "The Canterbury Tales"
In Kingdom of Heaven, Orlando Bloom plays Balian, a former blacksmith turned knight, at the siege of Jerusalem in the late 12th century. Director Ridley Scott takes care to make this knight every bit as ideal as Chaucer made his. In the process Balian becomes too perfect, perhaps because of Bloom's cross gender prettiness and the intonations of his dialogue, each word of which weighs heavily on the leader and the viewer. I probably missed a moment of light-heartedness, if there is one. This film could have used a good study of Chaucer to show how to intersperse gravity with levity.
In other words, Scott has forsaken the gritty toughness of Russell Crowe's Oscar performance in Gladiator for the saintliness of Bloom, which makes Kingdom of Heaven a parable of virtue rather than a hardscrabble tale of violence and intrigue. The violence makes itself known in every other scene, as to be expected in the genre, but with the quick cut, hand-held blurriness and slomo now characteristic of war films that eschew realism for artiness and thereby lose the sense of reality.
Kenneth Branagh's Henry V got battle just right with a camera that stayed in the action at a reasonable length for shots and ended with an Agincourt unforgettable for its camera tracking over the carnage and music something like a funereal choir at a midnight mass. Scott's fidelity to the war technology of the time with catapulting balls of oil and movable breaching towers is offset by a constant choir of angels so pervasive it loses its effect by the end of the final battle.
Credit the director and writer for balancing the guilt and horror among Christians, Jews, and Arabs. Jerusalem's King Baldwin (voice of Edward Norton) is a leper, hidden behind stunning silver masks, weakened but determined to the end to save his people from the overwhelming hordes of Muslims, led by the audience-pleasing Saladin (Ghassan Massoud). The "terms" between Christians and Muslims allow both sides to exit with honor.
It is clear no one owned Jerusalem in the Middle Ages, and no one owns it now, Palestinian protests notwithstanding. For a history lesson with modern relevances, see this epic; for a lighter touch, see Brian Helgeland's A Knight's Tale; to have it all, read Chaucer.
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