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"Kingdom of Heaven"

Directed by Ridley Scott.
Written by William Monahan.
Starring Orlando Bloom.
Release Year:  2005
Review Date:  5/10/05


The man who brought us "Gladiator" goes to the hole one time too many...and the result is the film that will hopefully end the latest run of Hollywood swords-and-sandals pictures for the next 20 years.

"Kingdom of Heaven" is doomed from the start; Orlando Bloom stars as blacksmith-turned-lord Balian, who I think is supposed to be French but looks/sounds/acts nothing like an 1100s-era Frenchie and sets out to lead Christians in Jerusalem as they defend themselves against some belligerent Muslims, led by Saladin (Ghassan Massoud) and his 200,000-man army of professional soldiers.  Shunning religion at various turns during the film--this seems to run against my thinking on what Crusaders were all about, but I'm not the historian in the family--Balian nonetheless overcomes the best efforts of a French rival (Marton Csokas, the baddie from "xXx") to gain the support of the people and help the Christians gather the strength to fend off a decidedly-superior force of men.

Here's the thing about "Kingdom of Heaven"--I loved "Gladiator."  Boom; there it is in a nutshell.  I like these big epics if they have a mix of storytelling, great acting and fantastic action sequences.  Because I am not too big on the real history of these events, I don't get caught up in what they get "right" or "wrong", necessarily, so reviews that "Kingdom of Heaven" seems to get the whole Crusades thing all "wrong" doesn't mean anything.  But, as long as it is interesting in the course of the film, then I'm good.  Unfortunately, the story in "Kingdom of Heaven" just feels wrong.  For starters, Balian has lost his wife to suicide as the film opens.  Although he seems depressed about this in his first shot, after he leaves his old village the wife is almost completely forgotten.  He even takes up with another woman--don't they all in these movies?--not an hour into the film.  Second, would people that are so intensely religious that they let their slaves have prayer breaks while doing their chores also follow a man that is so completely without religion?  Talk about "Losing My Religion"--Balian has no problem offing his priest in the first five minutes, then later talking about the idea that there is no God...this seemed like it would be blasphemy to the people of the film's time period, but it is shrugged off in almost a throwaway scene late in the film.  Baffling.  Also, it seems like Balian goes from blacksmith to lord in too quick a turn of events; everyone seems interested in being a Balian follower so fast that it might catch you by surprise.

And, oh, the action scenes!  I don't mind that there is much less action in "Kingdom of Heaven" than in other films of its type, but when things are boring, at least you can count on some cool bloodletting during the running time...right?  Much like the plague that was "Alexander", "Kingdom of Heaven" has just plain bad war sequences, and worse, if you've seen any of the following, you are going to be disappointed:  "Troy", "Gladiator", "Braveheart", "The Lord of the Rings", "The Last Samurai."  This is because the battles in "Kingdom of Heaven" aren't big enough, they aren't "wow" enough, they aren't bloody enough, they aren't driven by enough dramatic, sweeping, epic music, they aren't fucking shit.  This was really stunning to me given that we are talking about Ridley Scott, who in his short directing tenure has given us fantastic, tense action sequences in "Black Hawk Down", "Blade Runner", "Alien", "Black Rain", "Gladiator"...hell, even the opening sequence in "Hannibal" is better than any of the action in "Kingdom of Heaven."  I was counting on a couple of big battle sequences, but I was not to be satiated.  Sad.

Bloom is his normal self, although dialed down a bit to cool, calm, collected lead-by-example type, which fits him nicely.  The supporting cast is quite average, but when you've blown $130 million on your movie it's hard to round up any bodies warmer than Jeremy Irons, Liam Neeson and Eva Green.  The film's score was far from epic; the film does have a big-deal approach to it but it just feels incredibly underwhelming throughout.  And I thought the ending sucked big dong.

I was very unhappy with "Kingdom of Heaven", a film that I was truly looking forward to until about ten minutes into it.  This one has lemon written all over it.

Rating:  Rental


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09