2005-05-20 / Columnists

‘Kingdom of Heaven’ -- Not So Heavenly

After playing second fiddle in “The Lord of the Rings,” trilogy and “Pirates of the Caribbean,” teen idol Orlando Bloom has finally blossomed with a full-blown leading role in the Ridley Scott Crusades epic, “Kingdom of Heaven.”

The French blacksmith-with-a-noble-destiny, Balian (Bloom), is recruited by estranged  father Godfrey of Ibelin (Liam Neeson) into the Crusades to save his own soul (and that of his suicide/wife).

He does this by rescuing the Holy City of Jerusalem and its Christians from destruction from the justifiably enraged Muslims under the leadership of Saladin (the magnificent Ghassan Massoud).

Pumped up (but not to the point that Brad Pitt was in “Troyâ,”), Bloom plays his heroic part to the hilt, even riding off into the sunset with the beautiful maiden — in this case, the Queen of Jerusalem, Sibylla (Eva Green).

Producer/Director Scott strengthens his epic action with moral fiber. The real conflict is not between Christians and Muslims, but between those seeking true spiritual fulfillment and others who are in it for profit and property. Could Scott be alluding to today’s mess in the Mid-East?

The bad guys here are two corrupt Crusaders, Guy de Luisgnan (Marton Csokas) and Reynald de Chatillon (Brendan Gleeson), who stoke the fires of war by leading attacks on Muslim trade convoys.

This triggers Saladin’s siege of Jerusalem, which is the film’s spectacular centerpiece. Using a great engineering genius gleaned from the genes of his now-dead Crusader father, Balian and company hold back the massive attacks of moveable towers and catapults until the central wall comes tumbling down.

At that point, it’s time for big-time diplomacy, which Balian handles with true political flare. Thus, the lives of the Christians are spared. While the major scene stealer is Syrian actor Massoud, Edward Norton delivers an emotionally wrenching portrayal of Jerusalem’s King Baldwin IV without ever showing his face. Revenged by leprosy, Baldwin wears a silver mask throughout the movie until his death. Appalled by the evil raids of Guy and Reynald, Baldwin struggles in vain to maintain the uneasy peace among the various religious sects. It’s a wonderful performance that would have made Lon Chaney proud.

Don’t miss “Kingdom of Heaven.It makes you long for good leadership.

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