Patrick McGinlay's Internet Tendency

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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 Bloom), a
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
Sandwiches: 9/10
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 135 minutes.


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