Kingdom of Heaven is the fictional account of one man’s life before the Third Crusade, circa 1184, and his efforts to meet the call of destiny in a world of hypocrites and self-righteous zealots. Director Ridley Scott is fully in his element here, realistically rendering armies of 200,000 in awe-inspiring battles. However, as with many of his films, Scott stops short of providing a fully cohesive narrative or well-rounded characters.
Scott’s reluctant hero is Balian (Orlando Bloom), a poor French blacksmith whose wife has just committed suicide after losing their child. His faith in God shaken, Balian comes face to face with his father, Baron Godfrey (Liam Neeson), for the first time. Balian joins Godfrey’s crusade to Jerusalem; instead of hoping to free the Holy Land from “infidels,” he seeks to free his wife from Hell, where she surely is after having taken her life.
Kingdom’s Jerusalem is a city in turmoil. The ruling Christian government, led by King Baldwin (Edward Norton), wants a Jerusalem in which Muslims and Christians are free to worship side by side. They are opposed by a militant Christian faction led by Guy de Lusignan (Marton Csokas), intent on driving out all Muslims. This faction attacks Muslim outposts, hoping to draw Saladin (Ghassan Massoud), the Muslim leader, into a final conflict that will extinguish Islam once and for all.
Balian, who becomes a trusted aid to King Baldwin, becomes involved in this power struggle and gets a ringside seat to the treachery and evil that unfold around him. Godfrey has assured Balian that Jerusalem is a place of redemption where a man can transform himself. Balian does find his kingdom of heaven, but not the one Godfrey meant.
There is a grand tale here — one that Scott botches by overloading the film with spectacle while shortchanging character development. Kingdom is a film you end up wanting to like more than you should. No doubt there are flickers of poignancy throughout and the performances from the cast are uniformly fine, but these solid elements are overshadowed by Scott’s penchant for grand but ultimately empty scenes of carnage and violence.
Also in theaters this week. . .
Crash [R] A car accident brings together a diverse group of strangers in Los Angeles, forcing them to confront racism. Parkway Pointe
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy [PG] Just before the Earth is to be demolished by an alien construction crew, journeyman Arthur Dent is rescued by his researcher friend Ford Prefect, and they begin an adventure. ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East
House of Wax [R] Car troubles waylay a group of college students who end up visiting a museum operated by a sadistic curator. Parkway Pointe, ShowPlace East
The Interpreter [PG-13] An FBI agent is assigned to protect a United Nations interpreter who overheard an assassination plot. ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East
The Upside of Anger [R] A suburban wife (Joan Allen) with four daughters juggles romantic dilemmas after her husband disappears. Parkway Pointe, ShowPlace East
xXx: The State of the Union [PG-13] Darius Stone (Ice Cube), an agent in the xXx program, is sent to Washington, D.C. to stop a conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. government. Parkway Pointe, ShowPlace East