Saturday, May 07, 2005

Kingdom of Heaven, Or: Those Barbaric Christians

Well, Ridley Scott has concocted his most sloppy film to date, a cringe-worthy epic of the Crusades that says absolutely nothing about the Crusades. Rather than delving into the tremendously weighty moral, spiritual and emotional issues that must have plagued those of the time, Scott instead has crafted a muscular, confused paean to prick-waving.

The Christians (the majority of those in this film, that is) are blood-thirsty, vindictive brutes. Villainous theme music pounds the score every time the Knights Templar appear on screen, contrasted by the lovely, harmonious Eastern music that accompanies the Muslims of Scott's Middle East.

Now, there is no question that all parties involved with the Crusades took part in violent, outlandish actions. And the back-and-forth warring over the Holy Land continues to this day. But in casting the Christians as macho murderers, Scott has robbed his film of what might have been an insightful look at the misguided hatred that can be spurred by religious dogma. There is one scene and one scene alone that skirts this, and it involves David Thewlis (solid as always) as a priest. He shuns religion, saying he's seen far too much bad done in the name of God under the guise of religion. Pointing to Orlando Bloom's head and chest, he suggests that all God wants is man's head and his heart...from this is the soul derived.

Unfortunately, Kingdom of Heaven's insights end there, and the rest of the picture devolves into a spastically lensed collage of battle sequences, filmed in the run and gun style that has become so prevalent in modern war films. There is no sense of space or geography. Scott has become a stylist to be sure, but he has no inclination toward evolving into a formalist. His films have become marginalizations of a once-interesting filmmakers best works. Matchstick Men saw Scott return to a more character-based film, the kind he's best at making. He has taken several steps back now with this grotesque, incoherent film.


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