Kingdom of Heaven (2005)
Kingdom of Heaven (2005)

Genre: Action, Adventure, and Drama Running Time: 2 hrs. 24 min. (Theatrical); 3 hrs. 14 min. (Director’s Cut)

Release Date: May 6th, 2005 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Ridley Scott Actors: Liam Neeson, Orlando Bloom, Marton Csokas, Alexander Siddig, Eva Green, Brendan Gleeson, Jeremy Irons, Edward Norton, David Thewlis, Jon Finch, Iain Glen

 


 

B

eginning with an overture, like any epic insisting that it’s epical (a Director’s Cut and Roadshow version add nearly an hour of extra – or essential – footage), “Kingdom of Heaven’s” story proper introduces Baron Godfrey de Ibelin (Liam Neeson), a knight returning home in search of his son. The year is 1184 in France; it’s been almost 100 years since Christian armies from Europe seized Jerusalem. As Europe suffered from repression and poverty, peasant and lord alike fled to the Holy Land, searching for fortune or salvation.

A bishop demands that a priest’s (Michael Sheen) brother, Balian (Orlando Bloom), be released from imprisonment, even though it’s assumed he’s mad, continuing to grieve over the death of his wife (Nathalie Cox), who killed herself over the stillborn death of their infant. Balian barely speaks, spending most of his time looking off into the distance; yet his blacksmith and armorer skills are imperative to the construction of a church, as well as for soldiers passing through the village, in need of horseshoes and the like. The baron speaks briefly with Balian, asking him to go to Jerusalem with him, but Balian refuses – until, shortly thereafter, he murders the priest in a rage (due to the beheading of his wife’s body, as was customary for suicides). “No man ever needed a new world more.”

As can be expected from one of Ridley Scott’s historical adventures, attention to detail is superlative. From the set decorations to the costumes to the weaponry to the makeup to the gore effects, nothing is spared. Also anticipated are the complex action sequences, making use of slow-motion (occasionally in odd spots, as is typical of the director), plenty of blood, stunts on horseback, flying arrows, and heavy swords. It’s gritty, violent, and exciting. It certainly helps that the locations, the events, and the characters are handled with the utmost sincerity; levity is never misused to cheapen the authenticity of ancient, harsh, bloodletting undertakings.

“Protect the helpless.” Also key to Scott’s moviemaking persuasion is a sizable, exceptional cast, full of recognizable players who nevertheless impart genuine performances. The look, feel, and acting here is incredibly immersive. It may be a far cry from the upbeat, swashbuckling vibes of “Ivanhoe” or “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” but it’s still action-packed and intermittently poignant, replete with sweeping widescreen vistas, grand-scale battles, hundreds (if not thousands) of extras, and moving dialogue. There’s also a clearly wicked villain (Marton Csokas as Guy de Lusignan) and an exotic princess (Eva Green as Sibylla) – along with impressive supporting roles by Brendan Gleeson, Jeremy Irons, Alexander Siddig, David Thewlis, Edward Norton, and more.

With its colossal running time, a major war is inevitable; mischievous lords, defiant kings, unreasonable religious interpretations, and meddling politics push toward massive clashes, guaranteed to make use of castle walls, shining armor, medieval defenses, and enormous battlegrounds coated in blood and dirt (and a surprising amount of horse casualties). By the time the intermission and entr’acte arrive, “Kingdom of Heaven” has undoubtedly obtained its epic status (cutting to black on a curiously effective shot). And there’s still half the picture left to go.

“It is God’s will.” Amid all the backstabbing and plotting, Balian remains uncommonly righteous (save for accommodating Sibylla’s advances). Strangely, it doesn’t make him the hero it should; his failures to take opportunities to win the long game are somewhat disappointing, particularly when the forces of evil and their conspiratorial methods are so unconcealed. His attempts to stay out of the various power-hungry machinations result in countless dead. But he’s still the primary protagonist, designed to be an underdog, especially when he’s tasked with defending Jerusalem, without knights, against a vastly outnumbering army.

Plenty of time is allotted for meaningful character development and potent interactions, as well as a stirring build-up to the conclusion, full of rousing speeches and preparations for a climactic attack and siege – but it’s evident that the pacing is off. The third act is virtually just one long onslaught, punctuated only by reflections about the opposition and their strategies. It’s intricate, sharply photographed, tremendous in scope, and supremely destructive, yet emotionally empty in significant sequences. Storytelling is sacrificed for spectacle, resulting in something breathtakingly epic yet partially unsatisfying and unfortunately forgettable. The closing shots, however, are amusingly romantic.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10