Combustible Celluloid
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With: Orlando Bloom, Liam Neeson, Jeremy Irons, Eva Green, Marton Csokas, Brendan Gleeson, David Thewlis, Kevin McKidd
Written by: William Monahan
Directed by: Ridley Scott
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence and epic warfare
Running Time: 145
Date: 05/02/2005

Kingdom of Heaven (2005)

1 Star (out of 4)

Lost Crusade

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven has at its center a bold story, and yet it sitsthere like a stone pillar. Scott's own Gladiator signaled the return of the historical battle epic in2000, but at the same time, it also established a template of humorlessness,gracelessness and tortured self-importance.

Orlando Bloom stars as Balian, a character so vapid that I had to refer to the press notes to find his name. He's a 12th century blacksmith living during the Crusades, who suddenly meets his warrior father (Liam Neeson) and quickly decides to join him on the road to Jerusalem. Once there, he meets and falls for Sibylla (Eva Green) who, in addition to being the sister of a leprous king is also married to the film's one-dimensional villain, Guy de Lusignan (Marton Csokas).

Other plot twists involve either the inaction of our main character or his miraculous acquisition of military and/or farming skills. (He teaches the natives how to dig wells.) Given a chance to ascend the throne, he refuses because it wouldn't be nice to kill the odious Guy.

Like Russell Crowe in Gladiator, Bloom plays his hero with one constant, monotonous expression, like someone plunking a single piano key over and over, and it results in the total lack of a driving force for the film.

Unfortunately, no one else is up to the task either. Csokas (The Bourne Supremacy) does the same vaudeville-inspired, sneering villain that Joaquin Phoenix was allowed to get away with in Gladiator, and the always-reliable Brendan Gleeson becomes the movie's would-be comic relief, an ineffective buffoon. But poor Green (The Dreamers) has absolutely nothing to do but stand at the top of high towers and gaze into the distance through her Valley Girl-inspired makeup.

Whatever one says about Scott, he has a definite knack for directing women, from Sigourney Weaver in Alien to Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis in Thelma and Louise to Alison Lohman in Matchstick Men, and even Demi Moore in G.I. Jane. So his complete failure here is doubly perplexing.

The odd, sudden cuts to her face during battles and other action are a key to the movie's horrible editing style. Like Gladiator, the film's focus is on current trends instead of on clarity. Though he can be a master of space and mood (Alien, Blade Runner, etc.) Scott is currently one of the worst offenders in the school of shake-the-camera and cut-really-fast; it's a method of covering up action rather than highlighting it, and it usually means that there isn't much action to begin with.

During one big battle sequence, it's entirely unclear who is who on the battlefield. Dusty, helmeted figures grapple with each other in near-silhouette. When Scott cuts every couple of seconds, we don't know if we're watching the same figures from a new angle, or a new set of figures. He solves the problem by having Balian suddenly whip off his helmet so that we can see his face and flowing hair, even if he's now unprotected.

What finally emerges is a ponderously dull, curiously inert epic that joins the ranks of other recent failures like The Last Samurai and Alexander. Kingdom of Heaven follows the exact template of its predecessor and fails in nearly every respect. The only thing that this new movie proves is that I was right when I panned Gladiator.

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