Movie Reviews by Neils Hesse and Toby White
Starring: Orlando Bloom, Eva Green, Jeremy Irons, David Thewlis, Brendan Gleeson
Director: Ridley Scott
Review by Neils Hesse
First Mel Gibson’s BRAVEHEART won Best Picture at the Oscars in 1995 then Ridley Scott directed GLADIATOR, the film that reignited Hollywood’s and the public’s interest in epics. Then came TROY which was okay but nowhere near as close as engaging as GLADIATOR. More recently Oliver Stone tortured us for over two hours with his epic failure called ALEXANDER. After a disaster like ALEXANDER it would be safe to assume that the days of such epics had sadly being brought to an untimely end, but then Sir Ridley Scott took the helm again to direct yet another epic. This time it’s a historical epic that is based 800 years ago as the film opens in 1186 when the Muslims battled the Christians in the Crusades. So has Sir Ridley struck gold again?
In a nutshell the tale follows a young blacksmith called Balian (Orlando Bloom) who has just lost his child and wife, whilst also just finding out that his father (perfectly played by Liam Neeson) is actually of noble birth and has arrived to seek forgiveness from him and to take him along to Jerusalem. Balian refuses to go but after being driven into a rage that causes him to kill a priest he decides to join his new found father and go to Jerusalem to seek retribution for his sins. A brutal scuffle leaves his father injured and dying, but before he dies he knights Balian and passes on his title to him. Balian finds favour with the leprosy stricken King Baldwin of Jerusalem (Edward Norton). Tensions between the Muslims under their leader Saladin (Ghassan Massoud) and the Christians who rule Jerusalem are purposely stirred up by Guy de Lusignan (Marton Csokas), who is the husband to King Baldwin’s sister Sibylla (Eva Green), and his Muslim hating friend Reynald (Brendan Gleeson). King Baldwin and his trusted advisor Tiberias (Jeremy Irons) beseech Balian to accept the responsibility of ruling, if only he can also accept Sibylla as his bride and allow Tiberias to kill her husband, but Balian refuses as he does not wish to have any more blood on his hands. Baldwin dies and Sibylla entrusts the crown to her bloodthirsty husband Guy who immediately wages war on the Muslims. It is now down to Balian to lead the people of Jerusalem in a battle for their lives.
Ridley Scott has created yet another masterpiece. The locations, cinematography, costume detail and extremely well executed battle sequences easily rival THE LORD OF THE RINGS particularly as they are almost entirely CGI free. This film has got all the elements of an epic and it excels in almost every category that an epic should excel in with furious battles, an engaging love story, an emotionally wounded hero and a noble but equally tenacious nemesis. It might also have ended up as a better film than GLADIATOR but it fails in three key areas. The editing seems to have been rushed and considering that the full version actually clocks in at about 3 hours whereas this final cut is actually 2 hours and 25 minutes, there is a whole 35 minutes missing. The music that is composed by Harry Gregson-Williams is undeniably good but it lacks the emotional punch that the film deserves, perhaps Hans Zimmer or James Horner would have been a safer bet. The final sore point is Orlando Bloom. He has actually done a decent job, in fact in my opinion this is the best work he has ever done, but it is still not good enough. He does not convincingly portray the anguish that his character should be feeling for the loss of his loved ones and this is essential in getting the audience to empathize with his character. The rest of the cast are all excellent but in particular Liam Neeson, Ghassan Massoud and Edward Norton stand out.
Nonetheless this is still probably the best epic that you will see this year, so for once believe the hype and go and see it, you will not be disappointed. Look out for the fantastic mini battle scene about 5 to 10 minutes into the movie, it makes King Arthur and his knights look like choirboys. All in all I loved it, it is a great movie that I would happily see again.
Review by Toby White
It may be hard but to evaluate the film I’d urge any viewer to ignore any political parallels that may be evident – nay, obvious – in KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. That’s a can I don’t even want to look in to see if there are worms inside, let alone open.
So, to start at the beginning, in case you hadn’t noticed, KINGDOM OF HEAVEN is a huge, sword-wielding, sweeping Crusades-era epic. As far as a synopsis is concerned, it features all the usual epic fayre; a dying king, a hero who emerges from nowhere, an honourable enemy, a dishonourable ally and a beautiful but head-strong princess. A cliche, you ask? Another disappointment? Predictable history by Hollywood?
No. For in Ridley we trust. Think GLADIATOR but bigger. For a start, all the trademark Scott elements are present: the slow build, the sumptuous cinematography, the moments of calm and introspection, the slow-mo fight sequences to soulful music in the middle of raucous battle scenes. It’s altogether moodier, grittier and, dare I say it, feels a lot more realistic than your average sword-and-sandals epic. I think this has something to do with its atmospheric feel but also because it’s pitched differently. Without wanting to sound patronising, it’s more…mature, than say…ahem! No, I couldn’t say. What’s good about it is that it’s not just a series of action set pieces strung together. Sure, there are scuffles and the odd fracas etc but its build-up to the big showdown is measured. What’s more, these action sequences come as a surprise and their outcome is unpredictable. You wonder where battle sequences can go in contemporary epics (after BRAVEHEART, TROY and THE LORD OF THE RINGS) but Scott still pulls a few tricks out of the bag.
What is a bit of a letdown is the story. Not so much the humble-blacksmith-becomes-saviour-of-Christendom element, that’s just your average heroism stuff (in spite of Bloom, it has to be said, being utterly unconvincing as a rabble-rousing maker of history), it’s just that it feels as though there’s too much exposition, too much to explain. It’s complicated, just that it feels like…a series of events strung together. (Hang on, haven’t I said something like that already?) Basically, while it’s not just a series of action sequences tenuously held together by a limp story, it’s more like a series of tenuous events held together by strong action sequences. Still with me?
Okay, then, put it this way. It’s more about form than content. Which is great in the right hands. Sometimes it comes down to one shot. One shot that makes the film. Seems crazy to say this given the vast amount of money spent on the rest of the movie but there is one breathtakingly awesome shot that sums up the feel of this film. But I’ll let you figure out what that is.