Wag The God

Orlando Bloom plays Balian, a blacksmith whose wife recently committed suicide. One day, Liam Neeson visits and claims to be Balian’s father. Liam Neeson is some kind of a reputable knight or lord named Godfrey. He wants to take Balian with him to Jerusalem. Balian follows, in hopes of purging his wife’s and his sins. Along the journey, Godfrey is mortally wounded and therefore, he knights his estranged son before he runs out of screen time. After a shipwreck and a trek across the desert, Balian finally arrives in Jerusalem with a reputation as Godfrey’s son. Soon he’s mingling with city’s cream of the crop. He finds himself chatting with the dying king of Jerusalem (Edward Norton) and being entranced by the king’s sister Sibylla (Eva Green). But he also has to face Sibylla’s husband Guy de Lusignan (Marton Csokas), who sneers as good as the movie bad guys before him. At this time Jerusalem (as I understand it) is a place where Christians and Muslims can reasonably exist together, even though they’re headed by a Christian king. This doesn’t sit well with some people who want to get rid of the Muslims entirely. They have to pull some Republican mumbo-jumbo so they can ignite a war.

I watched “Kingdom of Heaven” with no adequate knowledge of the Crusades. I should not have been surprised by my puzzlement. As much as I hate people conversing in the theater, I had to lean over and ask my friends to compare notes. At one point, there’s a battle about to start and I was pumped. But gee, who the hell was I supposed to root for? I figured it out eventually because “good guys” always charge from left to right of the screen. The confounding screenplay by William Monahan is rather dull and distant. There are no characters to get excited about. I was dubious of Orlando Bloom in a lead role. This is partly because I was convinced of the wimpiness he produced in “Troy.” In this movie, he was okay but a better actor would have given an interesting nuance to the bland role. I liked that his Balian was having a crisis of faith, but then he questionably turns into some 21st century philosopher. If a medieval knight had watched this movie, he’d be scratching his helmet.

The movie doesn’t really hit religion head on. It is more involved with the politics where everyone deem themselves special to put words in God’s mouth. But the movie stops there. There’s neither a sense of Christian propaganda’s power nor religious fervor to inflame a war on this scale. It seemed that only two bad guys were itching for testosterone combat and the rest were caught in the middle and reluctantly fighting.

I wanted to like this movie. As far as I’m concerned, Sir Ridley Scott is still the king in orchestrating big battle scenes. His battles are more jarring, chaotic, gritty, and ultimately realistic. You take away the elegance of martial arts and the hungry-for-attention special effects of “Lord of the Rings,” and you have a sense of what Scott has done. Nevertheless, the movie ends up as a carbon copy of more entertaining epics like “Gladiator” and “Troy.” Its centerpiece battle is nothing new and will make you miss LOTR more. The bottom line is that without its battle and fighting scenes, “Kingdom of Heaven” is left with probably two hours of hellish tedium. Don’t even fight sleep over it.