“Be without fear in the face of your enemies. Be brave and upright that God may love thee. Speak the truth always, even if it leads to your death. Safeguard the helpless and do no wrong. That is your oath,” says Godfrey, Baron of Ibelin, to his son Balian.
It would be extremely difficult to argue that the Crusades were a great achievement for Christianity (even though many a Christian has tried but failed to do so). I tend to describe the Crusades as unjustified and completely unnecessary. I just can’t accept the idea of using a religious text or deity to justify murder. This happened very frequently during the Crusades (and unfortunately still does today). Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven does a very good job in portraying this and it’s kind of frightening as to how easy it was to do it (the sight of a Templar shouting “God wills it!” makes me sick). I saw Kingdom of Heaven 10 years ago at a preview screening the night before it came out. I had been very interested in seeing it, and I was glad to have enjoyed it so much (even though the religious fanatics in the film pissed me off).
2005’s Kingdom of Heaven centers on a French blacksmith who is asked by his Crusader father in the 12th century to accompany him to Jerusalem to defend it against Saladin and his Muslim army. Scott assembled an impressive cast for this religious epic: Orlando Bloom (as Balian), Eva Green (as Sibylla), Jeremy Irons (as Tiberias), Marton Csokas (as Guy), Brendan Gleeson (as Raynald), David Thewlis (as the Hospitaler), Liam Neeson (as Godfrey), Edward Norton (as King Baldwin), Michael Sheen (as Priest), Ghassan Massoud (as Saladin), Alexander Siddig (as Nasir), Khaled Nabawy (as Mullah), Eriq Ebouaney (as Firuz), and Jon Finch (as the Patriarch). Bloom is better than he gets credit for in his role of Balian, and Green is just as terrific as Sibylla. Irons and Thewlis give strong supporting performances, and Gleeson, Neeson, and Siddig shine as well. Norton is incredible despite having to act from behind a mask. Massoud is charismatic and strong as Saladin, and his complexity is (in my opinion) one of the biggest reasons to see the film.
Scott’s direction is as strong as ever (the battle sequences in this film rival those of another of his films, 2000’s Gladiator). William Monahan’s excellent screenplay (which features fictionalized versions of historical characters) explores the theme of forgiveness, how religious fanaticism can result in so much bloodshed, and how politics and religion really shouldn’t mix together. John Mathieson’s cinematography is first-rate (I especially liked the scenes where candlelights are used as the main source of light), as is Arthur Max’s production design (I loved the Jerusalem sets the most). Janty Yates’ costumes designs were amazing and are faithful to the era depicted in the film (the costumes for the Crusaders were among my favorites). Dody Dorn’s editing gives the film a good pace, ensuring that it doesn’t overstay its welcome. The sound design by Perr Hallberg was incredible (I’m a sucker for swordfights, especially the way they sound) and the special effects were top-notch (the siege of Jerusalem is among the standouts). Harry Gregson-Williams delivers a terrific score with Christian and Islamic musical influences as well as pulsing action music.
Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven is both entertaining and thought-provoking. It treats the Muslims in the film fairly (something that pissed off Christian conservatives at the time of the film’s release). Scott would later release a director’s cut that restores almost an hour to the film (including an expanded look at Balian’s life in France at the beginning of the film and an important subplot involving Sibylla and her son that significantly affects the main narrative). Scott’s director’s cut is the superior version and I encourage everyone to check it out (especially if the theatrical version didn’t win you over).