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BY ADAM WAJNBERG
MAY 9, 2005
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Political quagmires. Siege engines. Swordfights. Brendan
Gleeson. My kinda picture. So why did I feel so empty coming out of
Kingdom of Heaven?
This isn't a bad picture by any means. Beautifully shot
in cool, dusky twilight, Heaven follows the tale of Balian (Orlando
blacksmith who discovers he's the son of a Crusader knight (Liam Neeson).
After killing a priest, Balian follows his father to the Holy Land,
where he inherits a patch of land that, under his care, quickly blooms.
But forces above him threaten the stability of the Christian Kingdom,
as Saladin prepares to take Jerusalem.
Again, my kinda shit. The performances are mostly good-
Brendan Gleeson, my favourite teutonic-lookin' mofo, hams it up as
Templar bastard Reynald, the spiritual cousin of his bastard characters
in Braveheart and Troy. Ghassam Massoud comes out of nowhere to portray
Saladin, and does a wonderful job. Eva Green, my wife, is a great
femme fatale as Sibylla, queen of Jerusalem. Edward Norton, Jeremy
Irons and Liam Neeson are just lousy with nobility. Only Martin Csokas
is truly, truly dreadful, which is a pretty good ratio for a big epic
movie like this. The problem with this one lies in the script, which
is a tad confusing and unnecessarily preachy (more on that later),
and on the casting of Orlando Bloom as Balian.
Orlando Bloom isn't a bad guy, nor is he a bad actor.
But I cannot fathom why anyone thought he could portray a hard-bitten,
charismatic leader. He's simply too young, too plummy and far too
bland to pull it off. Throw in the fact that his character has no-one
to relate to, and you just have a rotten core to an otherwise good-lookin'
apple of a flick. Most of his contemporaries are friends of his father,
making him the crusader version of James Packer or Lachlan Murdoch.
It's just a little hard to buy him as CEO, when he still looks like
a fraternity brother.
Any movie that touches upon the long, sad history of
Christian/Muslim conflict in the Holy Land runs the risk of making
a comment on the modern political equivalent, and one wonders if Scott
had any intention of avoiding comparisons at all. The message of the
film - that the lives of the inhabitants far outweigh the value of
the stones that surround them - is a worthy one, but hardly makes
for good storytelling. The villain of the piece is fundamentalism,
which is again, a worthy message, but it's never easy to root for
the good guys when the bad guys are so good. In that regard, Heaven
takes a cue from the woeful Troy, which made many of the same mistakes,
but managed to offend the eyes to boot.
Just in case the point isn't made clear, the film ends
with the line
"1000 years later, Peace in the Holy Land remains elusive"
- helpful for those who've never read a newspaper. Ridley should re-watch
Alien, where the scariest scenes are the ones where the real terror
is in not knowing. Likewise, a good message can be made all the clearer
by what is not said.
Oh, and because this was a big-ass premiere, we got
food. The sandwiches were top-notch, ranging from salmon to chicken
salad to crispy bacon. Ample drinks were served. I am full.
Kingdom of Heaven: 6/10
Martin Csokas: More like Martin SUCKASS, because he SUCKS... ASS
KINGDOM OF HEAVEN stars Orlando Bloom, Jeremy Irons,
Martin Csokas and Eva Green. It's directed by Ridley Scott. It runs