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Kingdom Of Heaven  

Review: written 2006

Perfect moviemaking, flawed storytelling

Critics were indeed a tad harsh on what is an incredibly shot and worthy tale of the crusades. As a moviemaking exercise, this is history writ large in the best tradition of epic moviemaking. Ridley Scott has carefully crafted something as close to authentic as we understand, and used almost entirely historical figures (only Balian’s father played by Liam Neeson, and Hospitaler his father’s closest friend, are fictional), to create a version of the Crusades which has to now be the definitive version of that period of history.

Having said that, this is a movie, not a documentary, and has to tell a story we the audience can relate to. In this respect, the movie is not a failure, but definitely falls short of complete success. There are two problems here - one, the history and endless battle scenes (as fantastic as they are) swamp what becomes a trite personal story in comparison. Two, Orlando Bloom proves here that he is not a Russell Crowe style leading man. He lacks the projection and charisma to make you believe he can become the `Defender of Jerusalem'. This is balanced out by an impeccable supporting cast - Eve Green has a luminous quality that makes the effect she has on men believable, and Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson and others all get their teeth into the roles with glee and conviction. Ghassan Massoud is a standout as Saladin, the leader of the Moslem army, succeeding in bringing humanity and presence to a role usually projected as a two dimensional cipher.

Music by Harry Gregson-Williams (protégé of Hans Zimmer of Gladiator fame, and it shows) is effective, complete with choir to make enough noise to compete with all that sword bashing and siege warfare, but with gentle moments (occasionally) too.

So all in all, despite a soupcon too much of political correctness (a little too much effort is made to show the Muslims as gentle honourable people who would not dream of massacring the population, and the Christians as evil debased men who would stoop to any level to get rich), this is great entertainment - all the better on DVD when you can pause to get up and make a cup of tea in the middle to keep you going. Well worth the purchase, unless you want to hold out for the also released director's cut, which is longer and fleshes out the more human aspects of the story.

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