Kingdom of Heaven

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The ViewAuckland Review

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Review byMatthew Turner4/05/2005

Two out of Five stars
Running time: 145 mins

Slow-moving, occasionally dull epic that remains watchable due to some decent performances and an action-heavy climax. Better than King Arthur and Alexander but not as much fun as Troy.

You’d think director Ridley Scott would have had enough of swords and sandals after the overrated Gladiator but here he is again with yet another historical epic, this time set in 1184, during the Crusades.

Film Little More Than Prelude To Fight

Unfortunately, Kingdom of Heaven amounts to little more than a long-winded prelude to a huge fight that was done better in The Two Towers but it remains watchable thanks to Scott’s relentless visuals and some striking performances.

Orlando Bloom plays recently widowed French blacksmith Bailain. Grieving for his wife, he accidentally sets a priest (Michael Sheen) on fire (hey, these things happen), so it’s quite handy when he discovers he’s the son of a celebrated knight (Liam Neeson), who invites him to come to Jerusalem and hang out.

Believing that Jerusalem will offer him some form of redemption, Bailian becomes gradually involved in the local politics between the Christians and the Arabs, particularly when he falls for Eva Green’s Princess.

The situation becomes increasingly unstable after Bailian’s father dies and Leper King Baldwin (an uncredited Edward Norton, wearing a metal mask) falls under the influence of his warmongering advisors (Marton Csokas and Brendan Gleeson) rather than Jeremy Irons’ peace-loving Tiberius. Can Bailian save the inhabitants of the walled city from the inevitable attack? Well, no, he can’t, but he puts up a bloody good fight in the process.

Bloom is surprisingly good in the lead, dispelling any doubts that perhaps he’s not cut out for this leading man lark after all. Scott has clearly had a word and told him to say as little as possible and let his strikingly handsome face do all the talking.

That said, he’s not particularly good at the Big Speeches and there’s an amusing moment towards the end where Bailian is giving his “Braveheart”-style speech and the camera keeps moving backwards, revealing people who presumably can’t hear a word he’s saying.

Neeson Steals Film

The rest of the cast are superb. Neeson plays yet another mentor (really, it’s actually getting silly now) and, as usual, walks off with the entire thing - the film suffers considerably once he carks it. Irons is excellent, managing to do wonders with the little the script affords him and Eva Green is particularly moving in her Hollywood debut.

However, it’s the supporting characters who command the attention, whether it’s a peroxide blond David Thewlis’s engaging turn as Neeson’s right hand man or Norton’s bizarre Marlon Brando impersonation as the Leper King.

To the film’s credit, the script does not demonise the Arabs, although the obvious nods towards Bush-era politics begin to feel heavy-handed after a while. The main problem is that you never really get inside any of the characters.

That said, the extended siege sequence is worth the wait, although if you’ve seen The Lord of the Rings, you’ll feel like you’ve seen it all before, and better, in The Two Towers.

In short, Kingdom of Heaven remains watchable thanks to Scott’s visuals and some decent performances. As sword and sandal epics go, it’s nowhere near the disastrous levels of Alexander or King Arthur, but it’s not as much fun as it could have been.

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Kingdom of Heaven
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Content updated: 17/02/2020 11:47

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