Kingdom of Heaven
Oh, it’s another one of those movies. Big star puts on the chain mail and fights for God and country, ultimately having to choose which is more important. We’ve suffered variations galore in recent years, some better than others: “Gladiator,” “Braveheart,” and “Troy” among the best of the lot. Orlando Bloom’s turn as the lovestruck Paris in the latter film must have caught the attention of Ridley Scott; the prolific film director has crafted an entire film around the character.
Oops – except it’s not the same character at all. This time, Bloom plays Balian, a 12th century peasant-turned-knight whose reluctant but true heart leads him to follow his father (Liam Neeson) to Jerusalem on crusade, causes him to fall in love with the king’s sister Sibylla, and ultimately places him in the unfortunate position of defending Jerusalem from the 200,000 Muslim troops who lay siege to the city in an attempt to reclaim it from the Christians.
It’s a tale out of history, made fascinating for its depiction of the inevitable decay of moral fibre within established religious constructs. Savvy audiences will associate the theme with recent scandals – but these are not experiences unique to any time and place. The corruption that led to hundreds, even thousands (if you loosen your definition of war) of years of struggle was as natural as the leprosy that consumed Baldwin IV, whose tenuous hold over pace in the region rotted even more quickly than did his physical form. It’s an old tale, using staid techniques (gory battle epics, swordplay, the subtraction of sound and introduction of slow-motion meant to underscore a battle massacre); Scott’s abilities are as capable as ever, but there is little new to learn mythologically in “Kingdom of Heaven.”
Which leaves us with the central character, upon which we pin the hopes of audience engagement. It’s a poor fit. Bloom departs from prior efforts no more than a proverbial inch; the man has to diversify his roles in the worst way. And the character fails utterly to captivate. He is not a fallen or tragic hero. He is not unsure or depraved. In fact, he is stalwart throughout, the only thing changing about his being are the people and places that surround it. A model motion-picture hero he is not; and apart from Bloom’s fair looks and ability to perform stunts, Balian is hardly worth cheering for.
The other characters, on the other hand, are a delight. Neeson is gruff and weighty as Balian’s well-respected father, and Jeremy Irons delivers a wonderful performance as Tiberias, military counsel to Baldwin. It’s a shame that screenwriter William Monahan chose to depict Balian as such a tepid individual only to surround him with colorful, dynamic characters – and in the company of esteemed artistry (we can even exonerate Bloom with the defense of bad source material), his flaws are amplified into failure. It’s a reasonably entertaining film to watch, but it lacks the spirited character and story development that made its predecessors glorious.