A review of ďKingdom of HeavenĒ by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: **

Rating: R for strong violence and bloodshed

Run Time: 2 hours, 18 minutes

 

Underwhelming is the first word that comes to mind when pondering summerís first big release.Dull is a close second.

Epics are a tough call.Hordes of swarming soldiers (typically computerized), exotic locations and the exacting detail of costumes, weaponry and jewelry brought together to recreate the magic. History imparted (and often manipulated) as a vision of right vs. wrong and good vs. evil.

Not so in Ridley Scottís bewildering ode to the 12th century Crusades, a mishmash of battle scenes and tenuous relationships that calls for LOTR heartthrob Orlando Bloom to save the day in a rags-to-riches hurry.

Bloom is disillusioned French blacksmith Balian, in the depths of despair over his wifeís suicide and the death of the coupleís infant son.Fierce anger is coursing through his veins until the fateful day that Godless Balian finds himself face to face with a stranger (Liam Neeson as Godfrey) who claims to be his father.

With nothing to lose Balian sets out with Godfrey and his band of merry men on a journey to parts unknown. An unhappy encounter with the local law leaves Godfrey on his death bed and Balian (now Balian of Ibelin) heir to his Lordship and his dream.

That dream consists of turning a parcel of earth in Jerusalem into a kingdom of conscience and a kingdom of peace.En route to the Holy Land Balian kills a great cavalier and cements his rep as a skilled warrior.

Once amongst the Muslims the details get fuzzy.Balian is an unlikely defender of the Holy City against the Saracen (Arab) army.His politics butt up against the leprous King Baldwin (Edward Norton hiding behind an iridescent mask) and his crafty sister Princess Sybilla (Eva Green), a gorgeous gal married to treacherous thug Guy de Lusignan (Marton Csokas) who makes war not love with the maniacal Reynald de Chatillon (Brendan Gleeson).

The siege of Jerusalem isnít much to write home about. Cheesy dialogue supports combat melees too numerous to recall, all of them edited in close-cut choppy style that renders the action nearly impossible to follow.

Perhaps Scott would have fared better with a cast of hungry unknowns bringing this gritty historical chapter to life.Iím tired of Gleeson, Jeremy Irons and David Thewlis in period pieces that scream bloody warfare.Only Csokas as the malevolently ambitious Lusignan and Ghassan Massoud as Saracen kingpin Saladin step out of the box and give the script a run for its money.

Bloom, striving for that he-man quality so woefully lacking in Legolas and Troyís Paris, plays it ethereal and a trifle arrogant, a worthy hero with little to crow over. Green is sultry enough but what could have developed into a steamy thing between Balian and Sybilla ends as abruptly as it begins, the juicy stuff undoubtedly left on the cutting room floor.

To give credit where credit is due Kingdom is dripping with atmosphere. Its players offer serious purpose to their tragic moment in history and the dress code is fashionably de rigueur. But the Crusades are a tough sell; I was bored and more than a little perplexed by this unwieldy and lackluster project.