Ridley Scott's grand historical spectacle refracts 20th- and 21st-century Middle Eastern conflicts through the medieval Crusades (1095-1291) that mired Muslims, Christians and Jews in a complex stew of lofty religious fervor and earthly greed. France, 1184: Noble knight Godfrey of Ibelin (Liam Neeson), who has no legitimate heirs, invites his illegitimate son, blacksmith Balian (Orlando Bloom), to accompany him to Jerusalem. Embroiled in a two-century war between Christians and Muslims, Jerusalem is the center of a brave new world where a man may shuck off hidebound European social structures and live up to his own potential. Balian's subsequent journey of self-reinvention gets a jump start when he inherits his father's title, holdings and position. A man of conscience like his late father, Balian supports benevolent Christian King Baldwin IV (Edward Norton, whose voice issues from behind the disfigured Baldwin's silver mask) — a leper who opened the city to all faiths and maintains a fragile truce with Muslim leader Saladin (Ghassan Massoud) — and Baldwin's right hand, principled warrior Tiberias (Jeremy Irons). But their efforts to maintain peace are undermined by rapacious Templar knights, led by unrepentant rape-and-pillager Reynald de Chatillon (Brendan Gleeson) and Guy de Lusignan (Marton Csokas), whose loveless marriage to Baldwin's sister, Sibylla (Eva Green), places him in the direct line of succession for the throne of Jerusalem. Taking movies to task for playing fast and loose with history is a pedant's game; that William Monahan's screenplay shuffles events and chronology is a given. But Monahan and Scott's film unfolds in an unfamiliar medieval age where secular humanists — including priests — who value personal faith over dogma and church hierarchies and wish everyone could just get along, can speak freely and share equal footing with zealots and opportunistic warmongers. Scott's skill at handling of action sequences is thrilling, but Bloom lacks the gravity and raw charisma his role demands and robs the film of narrative urgency. And given that it's rooted in the infinitely complex political machinations that kept the Holy Land in constant turmoil, the story would actually have benefited from more talk. Ultimately, despite striving mightily to give everyone a fair shake, the film kindled the ire of conservative Christians and Muslims anyway. In addition, historian James Reston Jr. sued 20th-Century Fox, claiming plagiarism of his 2001 book Warriors of God: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third Crusade, while many critics saw strong echoes of Sir Walter Scott's (no relation to Ridley) 1825 novel The Talisman, which was filmed as KING RICHARD AND THE CRUSADERS (1954).
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- Released: 2005
- Rating: R
- Review: Ridley Scott's grand historical spectacle refracts 20th- and 21st-century Middle Eastern conflicts through the medieval Crusades (1095-1291) that mired Muslims, Christians and Jews in a complex stew of lofty religious fervor and earthly greed. France, 1184… (more)