Plot: Balian of Ibelin travels to Jerusalem during the Crusades of the 12th century, and there he finds himself as the defender of the city and its people.
Director: Ridley Scott
Released: May 2005
During the early ’00s, we were treated to a whole host of big-budget historical epics, with Ridley Scott making not one but two films of this type, first, there was the incredible Gladiator, followed a few years later by Kingdom of Heaven. This time moving the action away from the Roman Empire and into the middle of the holy wars of the Middle-East, for an epic that although not perfect, it was most assuredly a step up on Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy that had come out the year prior.
In the five years between Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven, Scott’s eye for what would look good on-screen was further polished and on a purely the visual and technical level, Kingdom of Heaven is a beautiful recreation of both medieval France, the walled city of Jerusalem and the wider Middle East where the crusades were fought, with the CGI becoming less obvious and blending in more seamlessly with the physical, to the point where you hardly notice the difference.
In the genre of the epic films, a lot of the success rests on the performance of the leading actor. Which is where some might find Kingdom of Heaven lacking compared too Scott’s earlier work, Although Bloom has clearly grown as an actor since Troy and commands a fine screen presence, you can’t help but find parts of his performance a little subdued, resulting in his character arc not being as impactful as it could’ve been. Green also had moments that felt slightly out of place and detached from the events going on around her.
In much the same way as in Troy, it was the supporting cast that really made the film’s plot progress at a good pace and have the film its atmosphere, Neeson and Irons both make use of their wealth of experience to give heart to their roles, but it’s the opposing commanders of both army’s that really shine, Massoud, merits praise for his sympathetic portrayal of Saladin, while Norton’s characterization of a king struggling with leprosy was wonderfully delicate and nuanced, which is particularly impressive given he is forced to wear a mask for the entirety fo their screen time. But unlike in Troy, both sides feel like they have legitimate reasons for conflict, but also desire not to fight when it’s unnecessary.
In fact, the movie isn’t so much about overall ideologies but the individual policies of its heroes, both Christian and Muslim alike. It was good to see the movie moving away from the standard good vs evil form or storytelling and treat both opposing sides as equals.
Although not reading the high bar set by Gladiator, Scott did manage to come as close as anyone Kingdom of Heaven. Once again giving us a spectacular movie, packed with lots of action and entertainment. Though I would advise you to watch the much-improved directors cut for the full experience.
If you liked: Alexzander, Exodus: Gods & Kings, The King