Kingdom of Heaven
Cinematographer John Mathieson’s Kingdom of Heaven is a gorgeous cinematic ribbon burdened with Ridley Scott’s tolerance parable about that ancient battle between the Middle East’s Muslim god and Europe’s Christian god, wrapped in a dramatic veil that thinly conceals its common opportunism as well as a set of pasties. Unfolding almost entirely in hushed azure dusks and nights and golden desert mornings and days, Kingdom follows the epic rise of Balian (Orlando Bloom) from widowed blacksmith to defender of 12th-century Jerusalem after crusading knight Godfrey (Liam Neeson) shows up and Darth Vaders the lowly Frenchman into service for a higher cause with, “I am your father.” That noblesse oblige compels Balian to the holy lands for personal redemption, which he earns in the service of Jerusalem’s Christian leper king Baldwin (Ed Norton in the iron mask) and the arms of Baldwin’s hottie sis Sybilla (Eva Green, resplendent in Bollywood colorful robes and goth-club mascara), protecting all peoples of Jerusalem—Muslim, Jew, Christian—from fanatical Templar knights’ blood thirst and a Muslim army led by King Saladin (Ghassan Massoud). Scott’s Gladiator gravitas weighs too heavily on Bloom’s shoulders, a reluctant warrior convincing himself to survive rather than lead. But set any of these battles to some ferociously thunderous Wagner and you’ve got some of the most stirring recruitment shorts for a 21st-century crusade—though tolerance won’t be their lasting lesson.