Kingdom Of Heaven (2005)

(In theaters, May 2005) It strikes me that with the latest historical epics, the only worthwhile question is “how’s the Big Battle?” In this case, director Ridley Scott has been handed a juicy target: The Crusades! The siege of Jerusalem! Armies against armies! It’s how we get to that point that just isn’t as interesting: Here, we follow a humble blacksmith-farmer as he improbably learn to be a knight, does everything right and ends up leading an entire population against the attackers. Slow at first, Kingdom Of Heaven finds its footing on the Holy Land: Protagonist Orlando Bloom becomes a gentleman-farmer, somehow becomes the favourite of both a king and his sister (in entirely different ways!) and quickly earns the respect of his fellow knights. Still, the film remains of shaky interest until the third act. One can blame the plot shortcuts on the rumoured cutting of several scenes, but it’s hard to imagine that a longer version could improve on the pacing of this lumbering monster. I suppose that we should be thankful that the end Big Battle is, indeed, worth the 90 minutes leading up to it. It’s not a bad film. At least it skilfully navigates a path between warring faiths without resorting to cheap racism. (Indeed, the most compelling character of the film is Ghassan Massoud’s Saladin) But Kingdom Of Heaven remains a bit slow, a bit improbable, a bit ordinary. Ridley Scott is a gifted director, but he seems to have phoned in this one. But really, in historical epics, why ask for much more than one Big Battle?

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