of Heaven (6/10)
by Tony Medley
Director Ridley Scott’s latest
violent incarnation contains some of the funniest lines since Laurel &
Hardy died. Here are a few:
The Saracens, led by Saladin
(Ghassan Massoud), are attacking Jerusalem, defended by Balian (Orlando
Bloom, still as pretty as a picture). The Saracens are throwing everything
but the kitchen sink at the Christians defending the Holy City. One of the
seemingly omniscient Saladin’s aides sidles up to him and says, very
concerned, “Why don’t they attack.” Reaching into his years of experience,
Saladin solemnly responds, “They wait.”
Before that, though, Balian
gets to show he’s just as wise as Saladin. Just before the battle, one of
his aides approaches him and asks, seriously, “When will they come?”
Replies the all-wise, all-knowing Balian, “Soon.”
Wow! These guys are SMART!
As if those examples of the
devastating repartee throughout the movie aren’t enough, here’s another.
When the Saracens are not blowing through the line like they thought they
would, Saladin says to one of the Saracens who defeated Balian in battle,
but spared his life, “This is the one you let live? Perhaps you should not
have.” Replies the quick-witted aide, “Perhaps I should have had a
different teacher!” Who could go to sleep in the presence of such a
But you ain’t heard nothin’
until you hear the speech Balian gives just before the Saracens attack
Jerusalem near the end of the film. If you want to understand the meaning
of the word “puerile,” this speech is a good start.
These are just samples of a
script (William Monahan) that instantly converts Balian from a blacksmith
running away from the law into a Charlton Hestonish El Cid, a charismatic
leader who simply cannot be vanquished in battle, no matter how huge the
odds against him. At one point he defeats four fully armed knights trying
to kill him when he’s barehanded without a weapon. I guess Orlando learned
something when his brother got killed by Achilles (Brad Pitt) in last year’s
“Troy.” He’s so perfect and pure I was expecting him to break out in a
chorus of Lancelot’s “C’est Moi!” any second.
That said, I do applaud Scott
and Monahan for creating a character with high moral values. Balian
refuses to commit adultery with Sibylla (Eva Green), the King’s sister,
even though she throws herself at him and is married to the hateful Guy de
Lusignan (Marton Csokas), who wants to kill him. Hollywood needs more
characters with values like this in its movies.
As to Saladin, I was hoping
finally to get to see a good interpretation. In “King Richard and the
Crusaders” (1954), Rex Harrison was a great actor, but, let’s face it,
he’s no Arab, no Muslim, no Saladin. But Massoud, Arab and Muslim though
he may be, isn’t much better. He’s still a Van Dyked, cliché-spouting
Scott pictures all the
Christians, save Beautiful Balian and his mentor, Tiberias (Jeremy Irons),
and his King Baldwin (Edward Norton, but you wouldn’t know it because he
wears a mask throughout the movie to hide his leprosy), as venal monsters.
I saw two priests in the film and both were bad guys. One stole Balian’s
dead wife’s cross that she wore around her neck, for which he gets
brutally murdered. The other is a Cardinal in Jerusalem who is as far from
a holy man as one can get, as well as being a blithering coward, willing
to sacrifice his people to save his own skin. I guess Ridley wanted to
keep his Hollywood credentials, so he took his cheap, unnecessary shots at
the Church. Consistent therewith, Scott also downplays the religious basis
of the Christian-Muslim battles over the Holy Land. All the good guys
decry any religious interest in the geography. Hollywood demeans itself by
its secular crusade, and jilts history in the process.
has big battle scenes with people getting massacred all over the place.
The aerial shots of the large armies maneuvering are impressive. The
cinematography (John Mathieson) is very good, as are the staged battles,
if you’re into that sort of thing. Although the film is interesting and
entertaining, good actors like Irons and Liam Neeson, who plays Godfrey,
Balian’s father in the first part of the movie, are wasted by Bloom's one
dimensional effort and a laughably hackneyed script in what turns out to
be a secular retelling with an anti-Christian bias of a religious war.
May 3, 2005