Directed by Ridley Scott, starring Orlando Bloom, Liam Neeson, Eva Green, David Thewlis, Marton Csokas, Nathalie Cox, Michael Sheen, Edward Norton, Ghassan Massoud, Brendan Gleeson, Steven Robertson and Iain Glen.
'Gladiator' director Ridley Scott again challenges the historical epic in this summer blockbuster which brings the Crusades back to life. Packed full of dramatic fight scenes and based on a largely uplifting personal story, 'Kingdom of Heaven' has enough of the right elements to make it a definite step-up from recent efforts in the genre.
The film takes us back to 12th Century, focusing in on the passionate battles of the Crusades, in particular tracing the history of the years between the second and third Crusades, when Christians had control of Jerusalem and the Islamic world was bitterly trying to reclaim the city.
Central character Balian (Bloom) begins as the most unlikely of knights. Introduced as a humble blacksmith in a small French village, he develops into one of the pivotal characters in the struggle to secure religious peace. Initially lacking in the honour department, he is wracked with guilt after his wife's suicide, heavy-hearted with thoughts of his child's death and considering fleeing from the law after murdering a clergyman - not exactly the most noble candidate to defend his people. But to his long-lost father Godfrey of Ibelin (Neeson), Balian is the only person worthy enough in soul to take over his quest, and ensure a peaceful co-existence between the religions, by defending the road to Jerusalem for the pilgrims of all faiths.
With no previous knowledge of his father's existence, Balian is forced to make a difficult choice when Godfrey comes calling, seeking to save his soul by taking him on a mission of redemption. And when on his last legs after a vicious battle, it is Balian that the admired lord chooses as his successor, to go on to Jerusalem and defend the people. In true epic style the newly crowned knight arises to his accept his challenge, growing into a respected and compassionate leader of his people, one not afraid to shed his own blood for the cause.
The road ahead is paved with treachery and heroism in equal measures as Balian travels into unknown territory. He finds trusty allies in the ailing Christian leader King Baldwin IV (an unrecognisable Norton) and his advisor Tiberias (Irons), but also a jealous enemy in the king's brother-in-law and military commander Guy de Lusignan (Csokas). In short, Balian must protect that people inside the walls of Jerusalem against attack from Muslim leader Saladin (Massoud) and his massive Saracen forces. As an aside to the main business in hand, the necessary ingredient of romance is added to the mix, as Balian falls for the beautiful Sibylla (Green), who is unfortunately wife of the cruel Guy de Lusignan.
Contrary to popular expectation, Orlando Bloom manages to keep his head above water in this blockbuster. Charismatic, if not quite commanding, in the role, he portrays everyman Balian with ease. As a visual spectacle 'Kingdom of Heaven' is impressive, rebuilding 12th Century Jerusalem to great effect, and making the most of the fight scenes in terms of shock and pacing of the movie. It's clear from the outset that an immense about of attention has been paid to detail, not least in the sets and the costumes, making for what appears to be a fairly authentic view of the particular era in history.
While it seems that there may be a certain over-eagerness to tie up the plot in a circle of history at the close, this doesn’t serve to tarnish what has gone before too much. And with the supporting cast (including Brendan Gleeson as Reynald de Chatillon and David Thewlis as the Hospitaler), turning in some very impressive performances on the fringes, the film is an enlightening trip back to a period in history that offers fascinating opportunities for retellings. The timeframe was characterised by great warriors whose lives were very-much conscience driven, giving a chance for a strong moral take on the consequences of human actions, which is grasped wonderfully.
It's no 'Gladiator', but that in itself doesn't make this a bad movie. When a film does enough to stand alone, then stand alone it should.