Reviewer: Charity Bishop
Following his award-winning epic Gladiator, Ridley Scott brings us a dramatic retelling of one of the most shameful acts in Christian history: the Crusades. The story centers around young blacksmith Balian (Orlando Bloom), suffering the recent loss of his wife, who killed herself in grief over the death of their child. His biological father Godfrey of Ibelin (Liam Neeson) passes through on his way to war in the Holy Lands, offering Balian a position as his rightful heir. The opportunity is passed up, but morning bears Balian into his father's protection, pursued by members of the Catholic church who find Balian responsible for the murder of the local priest. In a rage over the decapitation of his wife's body, the mockery of the priest responsible, and the theft of his wife's cross from her grave, Balian pushed the wicked representative of the church into the flames. Godfrey refuses to allow the bishops to take his son away, and suffers a fatal wound in the ensuing battle.
Guided to Jerusalem by his father's faithful and empathetic priest Hospitaler (David Thewlis), Balian hopes to redeem his sins and those of his wife by fighting to preserve the Holy Land from Mohammedan invaders. The more he sees of the empire, the less of a desire to fight fills his soul. Instead, he devotes his time to creating aqueducts to benefit his lands and tenants. Peace has existed for some time beneath the reign of leprous King Baldwin (Edward Norton) and Saladin (Ghassan Massoud), but rogue knights responsible for attacking Arab caravans have increased the chances for impending war. The ruling Christian monarch finds Balian a likely candidate to replace him in years to come, and encourages the young man to consider marriage to his sister, Sibylla (Eva Green), once her husband Guy de Lusignan (Marton Csokas) is put to death. Tiberias (Jeremy Irons), an honored knight and personal counsel of the king, is involved in negotiations between the two rival armies, but cannot prevent impending war.
Kingdom of Heaven looks like an impressive epic worthy of anyone's ticket price, but is actually a thinly veiled attempt to alter history through modern ideals of political correctness. I have very rarely been this offended by a film. It portrayed all Christians as blasphemous heathens pursuing their own political and moral agendas beneath the banner of the church, while the Muslims are respectful of the Christian faith and willing to make allowances. The so-called "hero" ultimately rejects God and commits adultery with another man's wife. The film is entirely historically inaccurate, from calling the Mohammedans "Muslims" (a practice not commonly used until the mid-nineteen hundreds) to importing ridiculous European warfare into the streets of Jerusalem. (The massive scale attack on Jerusalem involves machinery more likely to be found a hundred years later in France.)
The only two decent aspects involved the presence of a priest played by David Thewis, the only voice of moral courage and reason in the film, and the role of the King of Jerusalem, a truly just man. I loved both of them, and each displayed more courageous and fair semblances of faith. The acting was phenomenal, but what you wind up with is a politically correct attack on Christianity that is both unfounded, inaccurate, and offensive. Ridley Scott is an open agnostic who has publicly professed his belief that Christians and Muslims are no different. We are not the same. Islam is about hatred. Christianity is about love. We do not serve the same God, as was indicated in the film, and any good Muslim would be equally offended. He is not "God" to them. Their god is "Allah." I didn't know whether to groan, boo and hiss, or scoff when the sanctimonious, understanding Muslim respectfully replaced a Christian ornament in the temple that he'd just taken under siege. What about the destruction of the temples and churches? The slaughter of innocents? Even though the Catholic church was corrupt at that point in time, not all Christians were that way, and not all Crusaders were so ruthless.
Most Christians will find this film, rampant with graphic bloodletting, occasional innuendo, and one brief but explicit love scene, ultimately entertaining but poorly researched and ultimately biased. There are aspects that remain memorable, and the acting all around is stellar. But when it comes to misrepresenting history so shamefully, and taking an already sore spot in religious history to the next level of indecency, I take offense. If you must see it, see it for King Baldwin and Hospitaler, and don't believe what the story tells you.