Thursday, May 12, 2005

Kingdom of Heaven

Kingdom of Heaven is a visual feast surrounding a moral play about a grieving blacksmith drawn to Jerusalem to seek redemption. It's also a movie that rewrites history for the most appealing reasons.

KoH is Orlando Bloom's quest to become a leading man in the most physical sense. He almost holds his own in this movie, but instead of being the central point, he is actually the conduit through which we seek a higher moral ground. And that's not a bad thing.

Orlando perhaps found out in Lord of the Rings that he should surround himself with stellar actors, and that he does in Kingdom of Heaven. Liam Neeson, unfortunately, dies a bit too soon, but not before he explains to us what a knight should look like and be, tenets repeated often by Orlando's Balian. Absolutely wonderful is Martin Csokas as the totally evil Crusader Guy de Lusignan, whom Xena fans will recognize as the lover from Xena's past, the man who helped her during her "bad" period but who showed some restraint in moral choices, something the evil Xena couldn't fathom. But standing out from all the rest is the newcomer (in Western movies) Ghassan Massoud, who plays the iconic Saladin as a very human Saladin. In addition, we get a real treat when Alexander Siddig appears on screen as Saladin's aide; Star Trek Deep Space Nine fans will recognize Sid from his role as "Dr. Bashir."

Kingdom of Heaven has the heavy burden of correcting all the inequities of the Crusades. No movie can do that, of course, but it deserves at least a "B" for effort. KoH has the lofty goal of telling us that fanaticism comes in all races and religions, as do good and evil. The flaw in the movie is that Ridley's film tries to make us believe that only fanatics are evil, and that all the heroes shown here were not fanatical. It's impossible to believe, though, that these people would make a pilgramage from their European homes to Jerusalem if they were not convinced of their religious potency.

And in addition, the intensity with which we should feel for Balian's moral dilemma is not there, mainly because we're just not drawn to Orlando's Balian, he of the boyish face but stilted dialogue. We are instead drawn to the lesser characters -- the leper king, for instance, but not his sister, and Jeremy Irons' knight -- and their personal stories, triumphs and struggles. Good films have been built on less.

Thumb's up, barely, for a flawed film that aims higher than it can ever achieve.


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