A historical drama with an epic sweep, full of the sound and fury and gore of battle, Kingdom of Heaven is a somewhat formulaic but very entertaining tale of the Crusader wars. Directed by Ridley Scott from a tight script by William Monahan, the majestically shot film centers on Balian, a humble (if impossibly clean-faced and handsome) blacksmith who becomes, by a combination of accident of birth and all-around stalwartness, the defender of Christian-ruled Jerusalem against the Muslim ruler Saladin’s vastly larger Saracen army. In the lead role, Orlando Bloom – done up to look more like Viggo Mortensen’s Aragorn than seems attributable to pure accident – carries the picture only tolerably well. The taciturnity, exaggerated heroism, and absolute nobility of character he is called upon to embody might have made this a difficult role for anyone. Jeremy Irons is very good as the worldly politician who runs the city for the honorable, leperous King (played with ghostly creepiness by Jon Finch). Ghassan Massoud invests Saladin with gravity and a complex wisdom, and Marton Csokas nearly steals early parts of the movie as Balian’s sneering rival.
With all those good character performances, the excellent-as-always Liam Neeson as Balian’s noble father and the comely Eva Green as his love interest are fine but almost window dressing. The movie’s not about family or love. It’s about honor in war and peace, and how history seems condemned to repeat itself violently, and how no matter how much we try to demonize our enemies, they always turn out to be people very much like us. If some of the characters occasionally display thoughts and values a little too modern or liberal to seem realistic, that’s a minor flaw – the film doesn’t purport to be an accurate depiction of the twelfth century mindset (though the production design and costuming are first rate). It’s a good battle epic with a moral – a couple of morals, actually, take your pick, but don’t think too hard, just enjoy.
Prediction: numerous Oscar nominations for direction, music, sound design, effects and so forth.