Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Kingdom of Heaven

What man is a man who doesn't make the world better?

Kingdom Of Heaven ~ What Is a Man | A Constantly Racing Mind
With Robin Hood coming out this Friday, May 14, (2010) I thought I would get in the mood for a Ridley Scott period piece. "Kingdom of Heaven," set in the same period of Robin Hood and the Third Crusade, is as I see it, Ridley Scott's practice film before doing Robin Hood. Starring Orlando Bloom ("Pirates of the Caribbean"), as Balian of Ibelin and Eva Green ("Casino Royale"), The "Kingdom of Heaven" chronicles the causes of the fall of the Crusaders and the loss of Jerusalem. This review is of the DVD version with a boatload of special features. Scott knows how to put together action-adventure with a mix of history, see "Black Hawk Down", which tells captivating, entertaining stories. Don't expect a History Channel documentary, in "Kingdom of Heaven;" expect a classic three-act drama, a touch of romance, and a lot of sword fighting.

"Kingdom of Heaven" begins in 1081, in the French countryside, at a crossroad, where medieval priests bury suicides, as the souls of the suicides have lost their way. The suicide that the priest is burying is the wife of Balian, the blacksmith. Balian's wife, after the loss of their child, takes her own life. Liam Neeson, ("Taken, Clash of the Titans") stars as Godfrey of Ibelin passing through the town in search of his illegitimate son, Balian. Finding his son(Bloom), tells the young man who he is and asks him to join back in the Holy Land. For almost 40 years, the Holy Land has been at relative peace with the Muslims. After internal power struggles between the Muslims, changed and a new leader seized power and unites the Muslims under his rule, that leader is Saladin. Balian, at first refuses, but after an altercation with a priest, Balian follows the man who claims to be his father. After some sword fighting lessons, the soldiers of the bishop wanting revenge for the dead priest attack the Crusaders. Godfrey and his men defend Balian and during the battle, a soldier wounds Godfrey. The group travels to Sicily, where Godfrey knights Balian, his father on his deathbed. With Balian as the new leader of Godfrey's men, they travel by ship across the Mediterranean where they during a violent storm are shipwrecked. The lone survivor, Balian travels across the desert until he finds a small oasis. Drinking at the oasis, Balian finds his father's horse that too survived the shipwreck. Confronted by a Muslim officer and his servant, Imad (Alexander Siddig - "Deep Space 9") Balian battles the officer and kills him. Taking Imad as a guide, they travel to Jerusalem, where the two part company. Balian has a short discussion with Imad, explaining his philosophy of being a "good knight." The key to this film is not so much the truth of the Crusades, and the truth of how knights historically did behave, instead, it focuses on how a Christian Knight, should behave. Balian releases Imad as his servant and guide and gives him his stallion as a gift. Imad tells Balian "Even your enemies will hear of your greatness."

"Be without fear in the face of your enemies. Be brave and upright that God may love thee. Speak the truth always even if it leads to your death. Safeguard the helpless do no wrong that is your oath."

Balian meets up with his father's knights, and they take him to Godfrey's house in Jerusalem, where Balian meets the princess of Jerusalem, Sibylla (Eva Green), and the sister of leprous King Baldwin IV (Edward Norton). Although we never see Edward Norton, as he wears a mask throughout the film, he lends a voice that allows one to envision a man decaying from the inside out. Sibylla's husband is Guy de Lusignan, a French knight, whose political ambitions are set squarely on the throne of Jerusalem. Guided by an unnamed, and mysterious knight, played by David Thewlis (Harry Potter) a Knight Hospitaller, introduces Balian to the Tiberias (Jeremy Irons), the Marshall of Jerusalem. The Marshall, an advisor to the king, and an adversary to Raynald of Châtillon (Brendan Gleeson) a crazy Templar, a hater of Muslims, whose goal is to start a war with Saladin, the Muslim leader. Balian meets the masked king, Baldwin IV and pledges to serve him as his father had done before him. Balian retires to his castle of Ibelin and sets about to improve his lands by digging water wells and start farming. Sibylla shows up and starts an affair with Balian, explaining that her marriage to Guy is one of convenience, arranged by her mother for political reasons only. She knows her brother is dying, and that she will eventually become the Queen, Sibylla essentially hints to Balian that she will gladly divorce Guy for Balian if he wishes. Raynald of Châtillon and Guy, in the meantime, are raiding and slaughtering Muslim caravans. If Balian is the hero of the "Kingdom of Heaven," then Saladin (Ghassan Massoud) is the real hero of the Crusades.

The history behind "The Kingdom of Heaven" is flawed at best and outright wrong at worst. Ridley Scott and writer William Monahan take plenty of narrative licenses with the history behind this era of the crusades. Pulling characters, like Balian out of their native settings, blending several historical characters into one, and making up a romance that historically didn't exist, and Ridley Scott, makes no apologies, for this as long, it creates intriguing characters, and compelling stories. Watching the DVD, the bonus features point out (as well a check into my history books) the many historical liberties that Scott made throughout the film. However, the cinematography in "Kingdom of Heaven" is breathtaking; the killing scenes are tasteful and not excessive. Orlando Bloom, like his character in Pirates of the Caribbean, starts his career as a blacksmith and rises in rank to a soldier. Eva Green's character, Sibylla the Queen of Jerusalem is mysterious, as is Eva herself. Brendan Gleeson as Raynald is the only character I have issues with, although the historical characterization of Raynald of Châtillon as mad (as in crazy) Gleeson's acting, leaves me cold. I liked Gleeson better in "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," and his performance in "Cold Mountain," I found touching and realistic. "Kingdom of Heaven" is almost 2.5 hours of action sequence after action sequence. In these 2.5 hours, Scott feels compelled to tell about nine years of historical fiction very quickly, leaving little time for character development. Each main and supporting character receives bits and pieces of dialog spread out throughout the film to build their character. No character other than Balian and Sibylla has time to develop. Syrian actor Ghassan Massoud's Saladin character stands out above the rest, not only for his character's philosophy, but also for the presence he imparts to that character. Based on the historical accounts, Massoud looks and acts like what I picture Saladin would look and act like. A quick nod to Harry Gregson-Williams for a score that takes the viewer to an older, stranger, alien, yet beautiful place that is the Kingdom of Heaven.

When Kingdom of Heaven came out in 2005, critics gave it relatively poor reviews. Rotten Tomatoes lists it at a 39% of a fresh rating. The Box Office Mojo website reports that when released back in May of 2005, Kingdom brought in $47,398,413 domestically, and $211,652,051 in worldwide distribution. My take on the film, is that it is worth renting again, give it another view, and get ready for Russell Crowe as Robin Hood.

Movie Data

Genre:  Action, Adventure, History
Year:  2005
Staring: Orlando Bloom, Eva Green, Liam Neeson, Jeremy Irons
Director:  Ridley Scott
Producer(s) Ridley Scott
Writer: William Monahan
Rating: R

Running Time: 144 minutes
Release Date: 5/6/2005

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