← Back to Reviews

Kingdom of Heaven

#708 - Kingdom of Heaven
Ridley Scott, 2005

During the 12th century, a French blacksmith is encouraged to join the Crusaders in fighting to maintain their domination of Jerusalem.

I like how the brothers Scott embody two separate sides of the same filmmaking coin. Though the pair had their dalliances with different genres, Tony leant towards making straightforward action thrillers while Ridley had a tendency towards sweeping historical epics. Though the ambitious nature of the latter would seem to overshadow the basic accessibility of the former, it's not like Ridley's general output is automatically indicative of any inherently great quality. Kingdom of Heaven sees him turn his perfectionist eye to the time of the Crusades, building a story off a widowed blacksmith (Orlando Bloom) as an old crusader (Liam Neeson) claiming to be his father arrives with the intention of recruiting him to fight in the Holy Land. Though Bloom initially refuses, he eventually relents and so begins a journey that takes him from plague-ridden France to war-torn Israel. Having been fascinated by the Crusades when I first learned about them many years ago, I'm surprised that I didn't get around to watching this sooner. Unfortunately, it turns out that I probably could have afforded to put this film off for even longer.

Ridley Scott's tendency to sacrifice a strong story for technical proficiency in his films is once again on display with this film. Knowing that there is a longer but apparently more cohesive Director's Cut out there is liable to affect one's judgment of the original theatrical release, but even without that knowledge Kingdom of Heaven still feels fundamentally weightless underneath its sprawling locations and elaborate set design. The choppy development of the narrative truly sets in once Bloom arrives in Jerusalem and, though the film assembles a number of competent performers to carry it, they aren't enough to save the film's plot from becoming a numbing bore for the most part. Bloom himself is too much of a blank slate who gets a vague crisis-of-faith arc that is enough to get him started on his quest to the Holy Land but that only goes so far as he gets wrapped up in a love triangle involving a princess (Eva Green) and her husband (Marton Csokas). There are a number of battles both great and small that once again see Scott invoking the same mix of alternating editing speeds and shots of considerable scope, but the resulting application just feels empty if only because the story itself is such a dirge. Still, I do kind of want to see how this film's Director's Cut supposedly changes the film for the better, but based on what I've seen in the theatrical version of the film I'm not sure that it can really do much more except possibly inflate an already-bloated (albeit technically decent) period piece.