There are so many different ways that an epic film on the story of the Crusades could go. But as a historical event, they weren't really that interesting at their core. So why not focus on the people who lived and shed blood for them?
Kingdom of Heaven stars Orlando Bloom as Balian, a blacksmith who has just suffered a crippling loss and in turn lost his faith. Balian has lost everything and it isn't until his long-lost father (Liam Neeson) arrives that Balian begins to see a new purpose in life. Balian's father is a Crusader and has become a legend among his followers.
After his father's persistence and stories of a world of peace, Balian sets out for Jerusalem or the Kingdom of Heaven. Can Balian regain his faith? Will he become a legend like his father? What lies in wait for Balian in Jerusalem?
The film begins by chronicling the back story of the film's central hero and does a good job of planting the audience in the time period. But after the film arrives in the Holy Land there seems to be a decision to pull back from the characters and focus more on events. This I believe is a fatal flaw in this film's overall impact.
You really can feel the influence of Ridley Scott and how he tried so hard to engulf the audience in the time period like he did in Gladiator. Scott does all he can to present another glorious epic. His spectacular battle sequences and elaborate sword fights are thrilling and captivating, but the story woven through isn't strong enough to support the film's length.
Bloom's performance as Balian is interesting, but not captivating or memorable. As the film progresses, we get to know Balian quite well until he arrives in Jerusalem â€" then it is almost like he is a different person. This transition of the character is very off-putting. We needed to witness his evolution more.
I liked Eva Green, from Bertolucci's The Dreamers, as the princess, but found it hard to really adore her because she has so little of an impact as a character. She comes off as this dopey trophy for Balian, but you just know there is more to her. Who is this woman, really?
After more than 2 hours of screen time, I found myself having more questions than what had been answered. I will be curious to see the director's cut of this film and listen to the commentary on the DVD. Maybe then my questions will be answered.
I really wanted so much more from this film. I do have to proclaim that as it stands now, it's still better than the "terrible trio" from last year. The "terrible trio" of course being Troy, King Arthur, and Alexander.
What has happened to the modern Hollywood epic? Maybe it would just be best if these kinds of films migrated to HBO mini-series. The trilogy of The Lord of the Rings proved that if you build it right, the audience will come. (3.5 out of 5) So Says the Soothsayer.