Just when I think the big epics have overstayed their welcome, something like Kingdom of Heaven comes along. Ridley Scott has unleashed a wonderful film that, while not perfect, supplies a much needed respite from the lackluster epics of recent memory.
I may be forgetting a couple of films, but Ridley Scott proved that there was still room for the big sword and sandal type epic back in 2000 with Gladiator. Peter Jackson then proceeded to give us one of the grandest epics ever created with the adapted Lord of the Rings trilogy. After that it seemed to go downhill. We had seen the heights to which this style of epic could be reached, and with a bar set so high, could anything live up to the expectations of what was to come next? Oliver Stone delivered the goofy Alexander, Wolfgang Peterson gave us the slightly better Troy, and Antoine Fuqua decided to show us the “true” story of King Arthur. None of those films delivered the goods, they all had a “been there, done that” feel to them, they did not bring anything new to genre.
Along comes Ridley Scott and knocks one out of the park. This single film has restored my faith in any future attempts at the sword and sandal epic. The action is wonderfully staged, the characters feel real, and it tells an interesting story, which does not always offer easy answers or explanations. After watching the film, I had the question, “What does Scott have that Stone and Peterson don’t?” I couldn’t answer it, all three are fantastic directors, each with classic, or potential classic, films to their names. Yet Scott has succeeded where they have failed in creating a compelling film with fully realized characters and some wonderful visuals.
The film opens with a knight returning from the Crusades, passing a burial of a woman who had committed suicide. The knight is Godfrey (Liam Neeson) who is looking for the son he never new. It turns out that his son is now the town’s blacksmith, and not much liked. His name is Balian (Orlando Bloom), and he has just lost his wife, she was the suicide that was being buried. Godfrey wishes his son to return with him to Jerusalem to join in the Crusades to build a new life for himself. Balian is skeptical at first, but has a strong desire to atone for his sins as well as for those of his wife. The rest of the film chronicles his journey to the Middle East and rise to power, as well as his conflicts with the established aristocracy. It also puts him on display as someone who is desperately seeking redemption, and will fight to the death to protect those whoa re unable to protect themselves when no one else is willing.
I know, I know, that is a rather poor description of the film. But for some reason I just don’t have it in me to recap it. It is a remarkable film on many accounts. But I do feel it has one significant failing. For as enthralled as I was with the scenery and the action and the story, not all of the characters rang true. That is not to say they are bad, I just did not always feel a connection with them.
My main complaint is with Orlando Bloom, who has not yet convinced me that he can really act. Not that anyone ever asked, or wanted, my opinion. Bloom seems to be content with to play these medieval type roles. His acting is slight, and barely holds his own against the likes of Liam Neeson and Jeremy Irons.
Outside of that, I find little to complain about. There is some spectacular action in large and small scale. An interesting story which does not so much tell you who the good guys and bad guys are, as they are placed on both sides of the battle and besides that, looks can be deceiving.
Bottomline. This is a wonderful return to form for the epic, and yet another potential classic for Scott. I still can’t seem to put my finger on why this works so much better than other recent epics.
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