Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Holiday Thoughts ‘14—Kingdom of Heaven (2005) ****

R, 190 min. (director’s cut)
Director: Ridley Scott
Writer: William Monaghan
Starring: Orlando Bloom, Eva Green, Jeremy Irons, David Thewlis, Marton Csokas, Brendan Gleeson, Edward Norton, Velibor Topic, Alexander Siddig, Liam Neeson, Ghassan Massoud, Michael Sheen, Jouko Ahola, Kevin McKidd, Jon Finch

With “Exodus: Gods and Kings” in theaters for early preview screenings tomorrow, director Ridley Scott takes his shot at the biblical epic. This is hardly Scott’s first foray into Christian themes, however. Perhaps one of his most overlooked films, “Kingdom of Heaven”, takes a look at faith in the backdrop of the Crusades to restore the Christian lands around Jerusalem. It isn’t really a Christmas themed movie as it has little to do with Christ’s life on Earth, but I include it for this year’s Holiday Thoughts because it contains one of the best portraits of what it means to be a good Christian in times that most Christians lose sight of the teachings of Christ.

“Kingdom of Heaven” presents to us a few good people trying to be as reasonable as possible in a situation that is not reasonable. European Christians have taken Jerusalem from the Muslims to restore Christian landmarks to Christian rule and have held the Holy City for 100 years through uneasy truces with the Muslim leaders who have as much claim on the land as the Christians, if not more, since the Christians drove them out. Now, the truce is held by people who had nothing to do with the initial invasion. The Christians in this story have traveled to Jerusalem on a spiritual mission, escaping the devastating times that grip the European land of the Medieval ages. They are told it is their duty to protect Jerusalem from the Muslim threat. Many have found power in this land that they lacked in their homeland. And we all know what power does.

The story focuses on Balian, a blacksmith whose name was blemished when his wife committed suicide. After committing a terrible sin in a fit of rage, Balian joins his father on a journey to the Holy Land to find his way back into God’s grace. Balian is one of the few truly good people I’ve ever seen depicted in film, yet he commits murder and adultery. In the Jerusalem of this film these are daily sins, often done for much less reason than Balian is given. But Balian doesn’t believe he’s good. This is the key to his goodness. He’s lost his trust in himself and tries to live the life he’s been taught about Christ. Part of this is the belief that the lives of others is of the utmost importance to Christ, more important than even the Roman Catholic Church’s desire to keep Jerusalem at all costs. That doesn’t mean that Balian is just willing to give in to the Muslims. He operates as a soldier of the Church and therefore God, but he does not confuse the Church’s edicts with his beliefs and faith.

Scott and his screenwriter William Monahan masterfully craft their story to perfectly convey Balian’s belief system, explain the politics of the situation in Jerusalem, and depict the necessity of war, its tactics and the strategies utilized by both sides to gain what they each desire. As is often the case with Scott’s films, there is more than one version out there. While I loved the theatrical version, his Director’s Cut restores some important story elements to this epic tale. Scott handles the battle sequences excellently, but it’s the entire journey and the philosophy of his hero that make this picture such a powerful portrait of faith and righteousness.

Read my original theatrical review here.

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