Friday, April 3, 2015

Kingdom of Heaven (2005)

Director: Ridley Scott
Writer:    William Monahan
Cast:       Orlando Bloom, Eva Green, Jeremy Irons, Edward Norton, Liam Neeson

Balian of Ibelin, travels to Jerusalem during the crusades of the 12th century, and there he finds himself as the defender of the city and its people. In the beginning of the film, Balian (Orlando Bloom) is a blacksmith, in a French village, grieving after his wife's suicide. He meets Lord of Ibelin- Godfrey (Liam Neeson) who tells him that Balian is his bastard son and invites him to the Holy Land. Godfrey dies on the way and Balian becomes Lord of Ibelin. Jerusalem is under the rule of the leper king, Baldwin (Edward Norton), who doesn't have any direct descendants and is about to die. When he dies, the kingdom will pass to his nephew, whose mother (Eva Green) has romantically fallen for Balian. Her husband is baying for a war with the Muslim king Saladin- with whom Baldwin has a truce as long as the Muslim pilgrims are protected. Everything comes to a head when the leper king dies.

The characters in the film are fictionalized versions of their Historical counterparts. The first time I watched it some years back, I wasn't that aware about the intricacies concerning crusades, and since then I have watched the BBC series-Crusades which was presented in a comical manner by Terry Jones (of Monty Python). It certainly helps in appreciating the film more in terms of understanding the negative light it casts on the fanatical Christians. It was those times when Europe was largely under the influence of Roman Catholic Church and was going through what we now call as the Dark Ages. The misguided missions of Crusades were representative of the European decline with it being an exercise that put barbaric European Christians against  the Islamic empire in its glory years. One could criticize the film for the extremely binary nature of its character portrayal. The actions taken by the negative Christian characters are extremely irrational and suicidal which would have made more sense if they were seen to be doing it because of religious reasons. I guess it is understandable because to have a much more nuanced story would be extremely difficult within the scope of a feature film when the scale is this big. Another big millstone for the film is of course its lead actor, Orlando Bland (© Mark Kermode), and I don't know how he was trusted with such a big role. He is surrounded by such good actors in this film that it really felt like giving Roy Hodgson the responsibility to manage an all star football eleven. 

Got to say that, despite all this, film is still a great watch. At least the director's cut version of it which I watched. It was released in a 144 minutes version which received only a mixed response from critics and general audience. The reaction to the DC, which is forty five minutes longer, was much better and this is another one of those Ridley Scott films that got mishandled by the studios. The film didn't do well in North America but got good response from rest of the world and particularly from Muslim countries. It came out in 2005, a post 9-11 world which was again going through turbulence which was again dangerously described as a clash of civilizations, compounded by Bush's crusades comment. Some took exception to how negatively Christians were portrayed in the film relative to Muslims, but I guess it was justified since it is much more intended towards western audience. Cinematography is absolutely stunning and the battle scenes were breathtaking. Soundtrack was also memorable and the performances from Edward Norton, a masked one, and Jeremy Irons were particularly excellent. It would have been even greater if they had cast someone good instead of Orlando Bloom as its lead. It is a much more memorable film than Gladiator, which is much more acclaimed.

Rating: 4/5