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Kingdom of Heaven’ is good, but not Scott’s best

By Diana Saenger

La Jolla Light

With 12 nominations for his Oscar-winning “Gladiator,” there is no question that director Ridley Scott can deliver an epic feature. “Kingdom of Heaven” is no

“Gladiator” and doesn’t sustain intense action as did Ridley’s “Black Hawk Down.” “Heaven” also has quite a few holes in the plot and takes a few leaps of faith, but anyone looking for epic action will probably be entertained.

The story starts in 1184, the beginning of the Crusades and the holy war between the Christians and Muslims. Balian (Orlando Bloom), a young French blacksmith, is left with little reason to go on after his wife commits suicide. That is until his real father, Godfrey (Liam Neeson), a great knight, comes to claim him and make him his predecessor to protect the city of Jerusalem.

Believing that Godfrey can fill the shoes of a sword-fighting crusader is no stretch, nor is believing what he tells his new-found son, “I once fought two days with an arrow in my testicle.”

This brave knight soon gives up his own life and leaves the young, naive and far too genteel looking Balian to march in his father’s footsteps. Balian must prepare for war against the great Saracen general Saladin (Ghassan Massoud), who is by far one of the most interesting characters in the film. Bloom, however, just does not do his role as a crusader justice.

He does appear to be a genius, however. After being on his father’s property for only days, Balian determines they have no water. In a matter of days, the workers have not only dug many holes to find water, but also dotted the 40 acres with sophisticated wells. One has to wonder how his father managed this problem for so long.

There’s much talk of war among the men that include Balian, military adviser Tiberias (Jeremy Irons), the spiritual counselor (David Thewlis) and villain Reynald of Chatillon (Brendan Gleeson). One would think these stalwart crusaders, who can ride for days with little water and sustain the sharpest of arrows and still survive, would have some hearty attitudes as well. Instead they come off more as actors, calmly in search of peace. Even the citizens of Jerusalem whom Balian must knight to make his army, are more like merry men following a Pied Piper.

Of course, every epic must have a romantic link with complications and “Kingdom of Heaven” does have one, but it too is a weak link. Eva Green stars unnoticeably as Sibylla, the princess married to Reynald of Chatillon. She’s married to one man, faithful to another and a tease to a third, yet none of these actions draw anything into this plot.

Sibylla is also the sister of Christian King Baldwin IV (Edward Norton) of Jerusalem. Her relationship to him does present some complications in her affiliations with her men, but none that creates romantic tensions.

Norton is extraordinary as a leper who must wear a mask at all times. He clearly creates a multitude of emotions with every soft word he speaks.

Ridley’s sets do nothing to spruce up the imagery of the times, but on the whole are fine. Costumes are top notch. The last battle between the Christians and Muslims is neither breathtaking nor overdone, but it is interesting to watch some of the battle scenes from an era when weapons were so primitive.

The theme of Christians and Muslims trying to exist peacefully is certainly timely considering the world is still battling the same wars hundreds of years later.

“Kingdom of Heaven” is playing at the AMC La Jolla.