I admit it. I’m a sucker for a period piece, especially historical fiction. I knew very little about the Crusades when I began the movie. I became intrigued to learn more afterward.
As with any historical fiction, it’s best to understand the real story before taking the book or movie too literally. While the writers did take some liberties, most of them were taken with the romantic storyline, not the battle. Even those liberties manipulate timelines more than telling outright falsifications.
I have always loved Liam Neeson, but I would argue that he was the weakest link in this movie, playing Godfrey. He acts too much like himself; I had this same gripe in his voice acting in CON. Despite my griping, he’s still in a role in his comfort zone and thus didn’t detract too much.
Balian (Orlando Bloom) is a character with a great deal of history. The problem for me is that Bloom didn’t sell his performance. I’m only sad about his wife dying because they showed her dead body. I didn’t get the whole Mourning on the Mount thing. Maybe it was direction, maybe acting, but it didn’t work.
Despite these shortcomings, I was thoroughly engrossed by the movie. The costuming/set design was beautiful and made me want to buy some exotically colored fabrics just to hang around the house. Scenes in the country had a whole different gloomy look and feel from that of the desert. It may be a bit incongruous to have such different lighting and filtering in one movie, but it helped keep me in the right mood for the locale shown.
The plot suffers a bit in the scenes in the royal court, with King Baldwin, Guy, and the templars. I was totally confused by what outfit signified what rank/tribe/army; I was also stymied by some of the conversations. It seemed that the scenes were there to move along the plot to the next idea, but it reminded me of a poorly done Shakespearean-style chorus: “here’s what we just did! Here’s why we’re arguing! Here’s what’s next!??? *cue roar from crowd in royal court*
Sibylla (Eva Green) is (allow me use some clichés) luminous and exotic. She portrays complexity, hesitation, and seductive power in nearly every scene. Her entrances were almost always dramatic (thank you Mr. Scott) and I longed to see her again when she was not onscreen. Partially because the role’s costume requires it, she acts with her eyes very powerfully. She is thoughtful, bold, timid, and a general dervish of emotional crescendo.
The leper King Baldwin IV is a great performance. I recognized the actor’s voice throughout the movie but couldn’t place it. (If it had been Liam Neeson, it would have been overly easy. See my point?) Acting in a costume that only shows the actor’s eyes, he must rely on other means. His gestures and voice timber indicate everything. While sometimes it falls short of the mark, I thought that overall the actor did an excellent job. Because of the way the credits were displayed, I didn’t know who it was until the end of the movie (Edward Norton). Again, the plot suffers when Balian meets the King and they play chess. It’s obviously supposed to be a truning point for Balian, but the conversation appears to have been left on the cutting room floor.
Even though there are some writing issues, the movie yields some outstanding quotes with respect to the fighting in Jerusalem. Balian claims he will burn all of Jerusalem to the ground, and Saladin (his enemy) says, “I wonder if it would be better if you did.??? I’m amazed at how the world’s major religions all have blood on their hands because of the Holy City. What would God think of all of this killing? It seems quite senseless to me. One of the minor characters echoes my sentiment with: “By the word religion I have seen the lunacy of fanatics of every denomination be called the will of god. Holiness is in right action, and courage on behalf of those who cannot defend themselves, and goodness.???
The real history behind the movie is fascinating. Even if you don’t care about that, this is an epic worth seeing.