A bit of background before I give my thoughts. This movie had been widely considered ‘Mediocre’ since its theatrical release. Kingdom of Heaven Director’s Cut, however, received the praise it deserved. The studio responsible wanted to remove almost 45 minutes from the runtime and it’s evident how that affected the movie. I have only seen the Director’s Cut so I won’t compare the two. I also haven’t considered historical accuracy because I don’t think a movie should necessarily be that.
Right of the bat, I think, this is one of Ridley Scott’s best movies ever. I think it might even be top 3 right alongside Alien and Blade Runner. I surely like it more than Gladiator and there are many reasons for it.
This movie has a fascinating theme going for it, namely Religion and how it clouded their conscience. The world that the movie portrays is deeply affected by Religion and is something that can be felt even without the main conflict between Christians and Muslims. It is a very gritty and believable portrayal of how humans have misused religion to commit heinous acts dating as far back to the 12th Century. How religion has been misused to justify violence and intolerance towards people of different beliefs. Characters use a phrase as sacred as “God wills it” to justify violence towards anyone that can stand in the way of their greed and aspirations in society.
To balance all that we have a protagonist that although feels too good to be true, brings reason and logic to this war. He’s the moral compass everyone should hope for in their society and he brings out the best in people. Finally, the climax is both daring and unconventional. One that urges the audiences to think beyond what we’ve come to expect from most war movies and is consistent with the theme.
The sheer scale and scope of this movie are mesmerizing. Be it the production design, the enormous sets, the costumes, the makeup, or the locations it was shot. Huge props to Ridley Scott to going to the lengths he does to give us a world that feels lively and has a personality to it rather than just being a backdrop. The scale applies to the cast as well for nearly everyone from the huge ensemble brings a great performance to the table. Most notably, Edward Norton (literally unrecognizable because we never see his face), David Thewlis and Brendan Gleeson.
But unfortunately, there are a couple of things that hold this movie from being perfect. Orlando Bloom gives an uneven performance that although it doesn’t distract you, can occasionally feel like it lacks conviction. There are many moments where some emoting would have helped because it just feels like him reading lines. Apart from this, the camera work in some action sequences can feel a little too chaotic. There are also some very graphic blood squirts during swordfights that feel flashy but unnatural. But both these problems are occasional, and I don’t think they distracted me from the overall experience.
Kingdom of Heaven (Director’s Cut) (2005) is a brilliantly well-crafted epic that highlights how religion has been misused conveniently to justify hate towards other races and beliefs. Barring some occasionally distracting camera work and a slightly uneven performance from the lead, this is undoubtedly one of Ridley Scott’s finest works ever.
Watch Ridley Scott talk about the movie here.