Category Archives: Historical Films

Dunkirk (2017): A Story of Heroism, Desperation and the Cost of War

   I have to put my bias up front, but war movies generally aren’t my thing, not unless they are fantasy, sci. fi. or some sort of thriller (think “Inglorious Bastards, “The Hunt for the Red October” etc.). Given this bias, this is a great film that I highly recommend. It isn’t in the Top 3 Nolan films for me (those are still “Dark Knight,” “Dark Knight Rises” and “Inception”) but it is one of the best films this summer, even though it won’t make my Top 5 Films of 2017. The reason for this is at times it drags and the time skips don’t flow all that well, which kept the story from the truly masterful execution it could have been. This is still a film worth checking out though.

“Dunkirk” was directed and written by Christopher Nolan who co-produced it with Emma Thomas.

The story takes place during the British retreat from the Nazi Conquest of France and Belgium from the city of Dunkirk during World War 2, as they are pinned and must hold out as the limited air force fights in the air, the civilian fleet makes it’s journey to help and the soldiers seek their escape. These are the 3 narratives that drive the story.

Slight SPOILERS

The Pros: Music as Story – One of the best things this film does is give us communication through music as Zimmer’s score increases tension and remains quiet as it needs to, as the soldier barely speak and we see them react to the desperate situation they are in being trapped and under siege. It is powerful and truly, the music mixed with the human story on display is the core reason to see this film. It truly is masterful and brilliant.

Heroism in Conflict – One of the major themes is heroism in conflict, from the civilians risking their lives to save the soldiers trapped at Dunkirk, the soldiers who stay to help the French and those who risk their lives to protect the wounded. There are countless examples of this through the film that give the human connection with the greatest ones being Tom Hardy’s fighter pilot fighting to last of his fuel to take out the bombers so that at least some can escape Dunkirk and Mark Rylance’s civilian captain who risks everything to save as many soldiers as possible.

The Cost of War – Whether it is Cillian Murphy’s shell shocked soldiers or the two men at the beginning just trying to escape from using injured soldiers as a reason to get on a ship or hiding in the piers to sneak on…we see the cost of being put in a life and death situation does to people. People’s worst and best instincts come out because people are maimed and dying and it is hard to know what anyone will do when they are given the choice, knowing they could be the maimed or dead soldier who will never return home.

The Cons: Structure Issues – The film jumps between the fight in the air, that is an hour, the soldiers on the beach, which is a day and the civilians coming to help, which is over a week. It sort of comes together at the end but lead to dragging and a lot of repeat scenes that the added perspective didn’t help in any way, given we’d already gotten the human story at that point.

Drags Near End – The film drags near the end and really could have ended at a few points, given the narratives are completed before the final ending we get. If it hadn’t dragged and had the structure issues I would consider it a near perfect film though, given how well everything else is executed.

This is a film that I highly recommend. If you want to see a great war story that explores the cost of war and both the courage and fear that can overwhelm people and force them to make drastic choices, this is the film for you. It is another great film from Christopher Nolan and is easily one of the best war films I have watched. If you are fan of Nolan, chances are you will really enjoy this film, and same goes if you are fan of war films, specifically those that take place during World War 2. See it on the big screen if you can and I sincerely doubt you will be disappointed.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

 

War Dogs (2016): A Good Idea Not Fully Explored

war-dogs

      First I have two things I have to admit up front. Great comedies are hard to come by for me, I can’t think of many modern comedies that I’d say are truly amazing, most comedies I have watched in recent time have been overrated and not funny or simply decent. A movie needs more than jokes and setup, it has to have a larger point if the jokes and narrative can’t carry the film. The second is that I haven’t seen any of “The Hangover” films so I don’t know if this direct has other stuff or if his style is to ignore larger points and just got for large character stuff that lacks any sort of point. This movie was still enjoyable, but it was forgettable and it isn’t something I’d watch again for the non-spoiler thoughts before I jump into the review.

      “War Dogs” was directed by Todd Phillips who also was one of the writers and producers with the other writers being Stephen Chin and Jason Smilovic. The story is also based off the book “Arms and the Dudes” by Guy Lawson.

    The story involves David Packouz (Miles Tiller) who is miserable in his life as a massage therapist in Miami until his friend from Middle School Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) pulls him into the arms business. All is not as it seems though as he begins to live a lie with his wife and finds that Efraim is hiding things from him.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Premise – The premise of two friends getting into the arms business, one of whom is anti-war is such an intriguing premise. There is so much you can do with this…from buyers and ending the war, to the reasons to and not deal with certain groups. None of that is done though…

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack has some great classic songs through the film that have some pretty cool war scenes. It helped make the experience of the film enjoyable.

Henry Girard – Bradley Cooper plays this dealer related to the Albanians who our protagonists deal with. He’s on a terrorist watch list and is in control of everything through most of the film, even though he’s a side character. If the film had been about him I have a feeling the film would be a 7 or 8 at least, Cooper does an amazing job in this role.

The Ending – David is given a choice to go back into the business as he covers for Girard and has the choice to take his money and the connections that come with it after it seems he’s moved on with his life. It’s powerful but the journey to get there takes away from it.

Okay: David – David is bland, you get he’s fed up with his job as a massage therapist and later selling sheets and that he loves his wife Iz…but she only exists as motivation for him and his relationship with Efraim never feels fully formed. We see his rise happen way too quickly and his heal turn is abrupt. It was predictable in the end and his character could have been played by anyone.

Efraim – Jonah Hill is fun but he is in a malformed character who we are supposed to sympathize with but at every opportunity we see he is only a selfish character out for himself. Even Hill’s charisma can’t make this character anything more than passable fun.

The Cons: Iz – She is there to motivate David’s actions and his eventual turn back to good. She has no motivation outside of their kid and David…she isn’t really a character just a plot device.

Morality is never Confronted – They sell weapons when one of them is supposedly anti-war. There is moral dilemma and confrontation right there…but we never get the why and David just goes along with everything.

Lack of Complexity – David is along for the ride of this very weak script, the film wants to be smart and humanize the Middle East but everyone in Albania and the Middle East are like Iz, they are plot devices to advance David and Efraim’s plot and from that what chance there was for complexity and tragedy is forgotten.

Lack of Consequence – Our protagonists don’t really face any consequences. David ends up back with his wife after she leaves him and even though Efraim goes to prison for 7 years, he is shown to be so wealthy and we never see him beat…so chances are he’s fine, 7 months in prison did nothing to David considering Girard’s cash.

What was the Point? – You have a gun about people selling weapons in the middle of a war. How can a film have a chance to explore morality, mortality and choice and forget about all of that…the comedy isn’t enough to make this film good or even great and the drama is predictable…What was the point?

  This is a movie that couldn’t tackle the big question. It never dealt with the wars in the Middle East even though our characters were right in the middle of all of it, David and Efraim face no consequences beyond a light sentence (months in prison for David, only 7 years for Efraim). The jokes didn’t really work either because we were never given reason to like Efraim, the guy is selfish from the beginning and never shows himself to be anything more than a selfish guy only out for himself, so his betrayal and somewhat fall had no feeling behind it. It wasn’t two friends falling out and that is what the film could have been. This lack of purpose and point when dealing with some pretty hardcore moral issues hurt it and the comedy wasn’t strong enough to make up for the lack of point to the drama. Still, this is a fun film if you don’t want to think…those are just the kind of films I don’t see again.

Final Score: 6 / 10

Hell’s Angels (1930): Great Action, Decent Leads But Uneven

Hells Angels poster

     The film “The Aviator” lead me to check out “Hell’s Angels” as the first part of the film is Howard Hughes making this film. I got to say, it is a great film but it isn’t a favorite. It has some character issues that keep it from perfection, though visually it’s stunning and the ending is powerful. This is a film, like any good war film that explores the cost of war and what it means to be a person having to make though choices within it.

     The film was directed by Howard Hughes who also produced it with uncredited directorial help from James Whale, Edmund Goulding and Fred Fleck. and was written by Harry Behn, Howard Estabrook and Joseph Moncure March.

     The story involves brothers Roy (James Hall) and Monte (Ben Lyon) who are pulled into World War I as pilots and called upon a special bombing run they may not come back from. As each has his own reasons for taking the suicide mission.

The Pros: The Cinematography – Tony Gaudio and Harry Perry did a great job with the cinematography. There is great use of color to show conflict as well as great use of clouds for the shadows of war. The cinematography is easily the strongest part of this film.

The Three Leads – The three leads are the strongest part as each of them feels fully defined and should have received more development. Their interactions are what really made the film for me outside of the actions.

Karl – Karl is a German student going to Oxford who ends up becoming part of the German Army during the war. He ends up being sacrificed by his commanding officer after he bombs England when his Captain is trying to escape. His story is a tragedy as he described himself as more English than anything else and you could see how his duty was killing him before his Captain finally did. John Darrow does a good job.

Roy – Roy is the womanizer who doesn’t see anything deeper beyond experiencing the now. He only cares about Monte but even that only goes so far as at his base he just wants to live. We see him experiment with anarchy at one point before he joins the suicide mission to destroy the German Munitions factory. In the end Monte kills him when he is about to confess the military plans to the German Captain who has them captured. James Hall does a good job.

Monte – Monte is the hero who is the way he is because he needs surety. That is destroyed when he finds out that Helen’s been cheating on him but he comes back for the mission and is so by the book he kills Roy when Roy is about to confess the plans. In the end he dies alone calling out his brothers name though his sacrifice made England assaulting German headquarters possible. Ben Lyon is the best actor in this.

The Cost of a Mission – We see the human cost through everything that goes down. From Roy giving up, Karl being sacrificed and all the folks who die in the battles we see through the war. The cost is always there even when victory happens.

Loss – The three leads die and show the tragedy of war and how the three friends who could have grown old together had it cut short when they became tools of something bigger them.

The Cons: Helen – She sleeps around and cheats on Monte and that is the extent of her character. She’s a plot device that is never allowed to come into her own and have her own motivations.

Lack of Focus – This mostly applies to the battles which often times go on way too long. This film could have been cut if the battles had been cut in half, they purposes are achieved and when we get back to the characters the story is back in focus, but before that the story takes a lot of side detours for action.

   This is a great film that is worth checking out, though I wouldn’t call it a favorite or perfect. It explores a lot of themes that give it a lot of power, but the romantic lead just being selfish and given no depth hurt the story as did the fact that some fight scenes kept going on and took us away from the human drama of the brothers and their friend Karl.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10

The Aviator (2004): A True Scorsese Biopic Masterpiece

aviator

     I think at this point “The Aviator” is my favorite Martin Scorsese film. It has an amazing soundtrack, cinematography, writing and cast and deserves all the awards it won. It is a film I definitely plan to watch again and it inspired me to check out Howard Hughes’s films, which will be some later reviews down the road.

      The film was directed by Martin Scorsese, written by John Logan and produced by Michael Mann, Sandy Climan, Graham King and Charles Evans Jr. It is also based off the book Howard Hughes: The Secret Life by Charles Higham.

     The story is a biopic of Howard Hughes and the conflicts he went through with the businesses he owned and his role as a director and producer in Hollywood while dealing with his obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

The Pros: The Soundtrack – It’s Howard Shore so the fact that the soundtrack is amazing doesn’t come as much of a surprise. He does a great job here of capturing the jazz of the era, the torment in Howard Hughes’s mind. He truly did a masterful job on this soundtrack.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is stunning, especially in any sequences where Hughes is flying in one of his planes. Robert Richardson did a great job and the film is beautiful.

The Writing – The writing is really solid in this. People talk like they would in the era and we get a lot of show rather than tell, which is the screenwriter John Logan doing  a great job at his job. This film is long but it doesn’t feel long because of the writing.

The Characters – The main characters and their relationships are really what drive the film and it is fascinating to see how they interact and react to Hughes, who is an unstable genius. His relationships are really what drive the film.

Katharine Hepburn – Cate Blanchett does a fantastic job as Katharine Hepburn. She’s eccentric and selfish just like Hughes, but we see does have a little more self-awareness and did try to deal with the problems in their relationship that he ignored since he was so focused on his job. She moves on and is happier for it, though in his darkest place she still reaches out as a friend, even after how cruel he was when they broke up.

Noah Dietrich – John C. Reilly plays Hughes’s second in command and is the one making everything happen behind the scenes. Reilly is a great actor, which I really didn’t realize until this film. His arc is learning to put his foot down with Hughes so that Hughes won’t destroy the companies he created with his different projects.

Juan Trippe – Trippe is the owner of Pan Am Airlines and the main antagonist in the film. He is played by Alec Baldwin who does a good job in the role and manages to imbue the character with honor, humanity and ruthlessness. His arc is when he stops the fight after the hearing becomes an attack against him rather than the attack against Hughes it was meant to be.

Senator Brewster – Alan Alda is one of my favorite actors and it is wonderful seeing him in an antagonistic role as he works with Trippe to keep Hughes’s airline from competing with Pan Am. He’s ruthless but has a kindness to him as you see that even though he’s corrupt there is still a humanity to the character.

Ava Gardner – Ava is the one Hughes keeps wanting to marry but who continues to turn him down since his crazyness (paranoia, etc.) keep her from feeling safe around him. She is there to help him get back together though and we see she loves him as a friend, just knows that she could never marry him or be in a relationship with him. Kate Beckinsale does a good job.

Howard Hughes – DeCaprio is fantastic as Hughes. He really does a great job as the eccentric millionaire (Hello Gatsby) though this time we get to see the full depths of a very flawed genius. DeCaprio captures his passion, fear, anger and stubbornness and seeing him complete his arc and face his those fears is powerful.

Making “Hell’s Angels” – Making the film “Hell’s Angels” (Which is a pretty good film) is fascinating as we see how Hughes needed everything to be perfect and to be a certain way. Each year see what is going on, whether it is getting more cameras for filming, editing it so that it will be in sound or trying to find clouds to film the flight scenes. This could have been the film and us given more details and it would have been just as great as the film we got.

The Flights – The flights are beautiful. We see fighter planes, spy planes and even a crash that Hughes goes through over the course of the film. In each case the freedom and danger. The planes are beautiful and the shots from the sky are stunning.

The Hearing – They do a good job of overlaying the hearing where Hughes calls Senator Brewster out for business relationship with Juan Trippe and Trippe’s monopoly on the airlines and with it we get the conclusion as he finally pulls himself out of his depression and funk in order to be there and not to panic.

   There isn’t really anything I can say wrong about this film. It hits all the right notes, all the main characters are explored and grow and change or deal as the film progresses and the story has excellent payoffs. I’d highly recommend this film. It is the best film I have seen from Martin Scorsese and deserves all the awards it won. Not only does it give the snapshot of a person during an era, but it also manages to capture the freedom in flying and the passion it takes to make projects a reality.

Final Score: 10 / 10

Spotlight (2015): The Process of an Investigative Story and Giving Voice to the Survivors

Spotlight

     “Spotlight” is a powerful story that shows the process of creating a great investigative story and the in the process showing how structures that prop up people in power, especially those in regards to religion are prone to abuse and cover-up as saving face and ideology can end up becoming more important than people. As an agnostic who left religion it was wonderful seeing the media do what it is supposed to do, and reveal systematic corruption and in revealing it make possible finally putting a stop to it.

    The film was directed by Tom McCarthy who also wrote it with Josh Singer and produced by Blye Faust, Steve Golin, Nicole Rocklin and Michael Sugar.

     The story involves the Spotilght team of the Boston Globe, being lead by Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), investigating the Catholic Sex Abuse cover-up when the new Editor in Chief Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) believes there is a story there which comes to shake up the community of Boston.

The Pros: Boston – Boston feels alive as you see the many different levels of the city. From the poor areas where many of the events of sexual abuse and rape took place as the folks there had no advocates and the Church was the only power, from the rich fundraisers, to individual homes in Boston and the Boston Globe itself. This is a city that is shown to be alive.

The Boston Globe – The Boston Globe is shown to be a pretty great organization as we see a diversity of characters, motivation and conflict as the paper is trying to define itself in relation to Boston with the sex abuse scandal it’s uncovering and having an outsider Editor-in-Chief at the helm. I really liked how the film handled this.

The Characters – The characters and how they are portrayed is what makes this story great. It is fully fleshed out characters that lend truth to the real life events that took place and allow us to see into the choices our characters make and made.

Ben Bradlee Jr. – John Slattery is awesome as Ben Bradlee Jr. In this we see a very old style journalist who is leading the paper and because of it is comfortable with those in power, but even he wakes up when he realizes the extent of the abuse and corruption and from there gives his full backing to the Spotlight team. He is the questioner and makes the team better in the process.

Mitchell Garabedian – Stanley Tucci plays one of my favorite characters in this. In this he is the advocate for the victims who the Church keeps trying to silence and disbar. For this reason Rezendes has to slowly win him over as he shows the Globe won’t bow to Church pressure. I really liked the character and Tucci’s performance is amazing. He is the one who never stops fighting and who lives for work and advocacy.

Walter “Robby” Robinson – Michael Keaton plays Robinson and does a fantastic job! He was the one who reported on the sex abuse scandal ages ago and didn’t follow up. This is guilt he lives with until Baron calls him back to the present. Robby is also the one most in with the community as we see him get together with a former classmate to hear his story about the Priest who molested him, and from the guy who defended all the priests and played it like everything was okay. Robby sees all of it and it lends depth to Boston and the characters around him.

Sacha Pfeiffer – Rachel McAdams is a fantastic actress and in this we see her conflict being with her mother who is a hardcore Catholic and her hiding the story from her as she stops attending Church when Sacha stops going to Church after the extent of the cover-up is revealed and her and Rezendes discuss the problem of evil and faith. She could have got more development but her lending a voice to the victims while being professional and doing her job was extremely well done.

Michael Rezendes –  Mark Ruffalo played by favorite character. Rezendes is a passionate guy who is a little off in some ways and is always working a bit detached from things like Baron but also extremely passionate. When he finds the letters that Law was trying to keep from the public he wants Spotlight to run the story then, and waiting is hard for him as we learn he was an ex-Catholic who part of him wanted to go back but after the Scandal he could never see it happen given the institution covered up the rapes and protected the rapists. His genuineness and stubbornness were things I could relate to.

Marty Baron – Liev Schreiber is wonderful as the detached Editor from Miami. At first you think he’s going to start doing cuts but instead he refocuses the paper and has them follow up on the rumor of sex abuse. It’s powerful and we see he is there to fight for them even as he makes tough choices. Suffice to say I really appreciated the character and found his outsider perspective in Boston refreshing as I think it something that can lend strength to seeing things in a different light and helping reveal truths about a perspective, religion, community or organization.

Making the Story and the role of Journalism – A huge part of the plot is how Spotlight works as we see the Team following up on leads, interviewing people, analyzing sources, following paper trails, going to the courthouse,

Voice for the Victims – In this film we see the role of journalism as giving voice the the victims as the truth is revealed. It is powerful receiving their stories as kids who were vulnerable, poor and outcasts were raped by priests and had held it in for years. It is only when Spotlight shines a light on what happened that they are able to find their voice and in doing so help bring about justice in regards to what was done to them.

Power and Corruption – One of the big things is that of power and corruption. All of those connected to the Church covering up events are shown to be very well off and clearly profited from the atrocities they helped cover up. Cardinal Law himself is shown to be detached and uncaring about knowing the point that he’d attack those who were fighting for the victims. This is the price of power that believes it finds itself derived from God and is accountable to only itself. The church hides documents that are public record just because it would show how corrupt they were and the fact that Law ignored the warnings and punished those who spoke from within the church about the abuse.

Okay: Matt Carroll – This character was alright as he shows us the concerned father in everything, but he didn’t feel as fleshed out as Rezendes, Robinson, Pfeiffer and Garabedian. I still liked the character but thought that he wasn’t really needed in regards to the script.

Cardinal Law – This guy is detached from everything (which may have been purposeful on the films part) but after hearing how he called the wrath of God on one of the investigations that had been done earlier…I wanted to see that side of the character…a man who looked past atrocities and saw the Church as above them and was invited back to a cushy position of power, even after all the atrocities he covered up and monsters he protected.

Church Pressure – We don’t see as much pressure from the Church to silence the story, which is a shame. Mostly it is Law trying to get Baron in with the Church at the beginning and Robby’s lawyer friend who works for the Church who keeps telling him to drop the story. It is mostly from the community that the silence comes from, not the Church lawyers.

  This was a powerful film and easily in the Top 10 of the Year. I don’t think it will make the Top 5 due to some of the characters not getting as much development as I would have liked but it doesn’t change how great it is in themes and execution. This is a story that had to be told ande here is where you can read about it for yourselves too.:

http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/specials/clergy

   Events like this must not be forgotten as chances are it is still going on today and many of the people who committed the crimes were never brought to justice or have never been brought to justice as the Vatican moved them out of the United States. The only way an institution can change is when light is shined upon it and even then there is going to be fighting from those who profit from the status quo. This is why stories like this matter, it lends voice to the voiceless and gives the chance for them to get justice for the wrongs done against them. This beautiful film, is one way the light has been shown on this scandal.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10

Black Mass (2015): A Decent Biopic about the Rise and Fall of “Whitey” Bulger

Black Mass Poster

    Biopics, specifically gangster biopics are hard to pull off. For one you are starting with someone who by the very nature of what they do is unsympathetic and it often times depends way too much on whomever the star is in order to carry the story rather than the power of the writing and story itself. These were the main issues with “Black Mass” that kept it from being great, though it is good to see Johnny Depp in form again and there is a lot to like about this film, even though it missed some great opportunities to raise stakes and humanize the characters.

      The film was directed by Scott Cooper who was also one of the producers and written by Jez Butterworth and Mark Mallouk while the other producers were Josh Lesher, Patrick McCormick, Brian Oliver and Tyler Thompson. It was also based on the book of the same name by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill.

      The story involves the rise of fall of Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp) and his relationship with his brother the Senator Billy Bulger (Benedict Cumberbatch) and their childhood friend who joined the FBI but stayed close to them John Connolly (Joel Edgerton).

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is dark and does a good job capturing the tone of the piece as we follow the life and times of the criminal Whitey Bulger. It never pretends to be anything but a crime biopic and the cinematography beautifully captures it. Takayanagi did a great job.

Whitey Bulger – Johnny Depp is great when he has the chance to play more than a Tim Burton stock character and we get to see him play a truly creepy and scary guy in this. He has relationships he cares about like his son, mother and brother but at the end of the day human life means nothing to him and we see that really well. His paranoia also continues to grow throughout the film as he becomes even more unstable than when we first meet him.

Billy Bulger – Cumberbatch does a fantastic Boston accent and is great as the brother who looks the other way and gives a good public face to the family as he is never corrupt as far as we can see, he is corrupt in how he hides his brother’s crimes by refusing to prosecute or do anything about what others bring forward. It is for this reason he eventually gets arrested we learn in the post credits scene when he stays in contact with his brother the fugitive.

Fred Wyshak – Corey Stoll does a fantastic job as the one who cleans house in the FBI leading to the eventual arrest of Connolly and Bulger and his gang. He is all about work and and it is great seeing him figure everything out, while holding it all close to his chest so that what informants Bulger has in the FBI won’t get out.

Charles McGuire – Kevin Bacon plays the FBI agent trying to do his job on a corrupt force and does a good job of it and clashing with Connolly. Kevin Bacon was great doing the no-nonsense boss shtick.

Okay: John Connolly – It was hard to care about this guy as he was so blatantly corrupt that I was just waiting for the eventual ax to fall.

The Cons: The Minor Characters and Women – Most of the minor characters were completely unmemorable, be they part of Whitey’s gang or the wives of the FBI agents. They were nothing be scenery and for this reason it was hard to care about what happened to any of them. They weren’t given agency.

The War with the Mafia – We never really see the face of the mafia so the war that the FBI fights and the Bulger is fighting with them doesn’t mean anything. They are only ever mentioned and we get the fallout and that really took a lot of the stakes out of the film as we don’t really get tension until Wyshack appears and does all he can to clean out the FBI and catch Whitey.

  This was a decent film that is worth seeing if you are into crime dramas. Depp is memorable but the script needed work as the stakes aren’t executed well and the minor characters never rise above being stock crime drama characters. This is what kept it from being great and why I could see people not enjoying this film as you cannot count on stars to carry a film. “The Martian” worked because of the writing, directing and all of the cast being interesting. In this the only interesting characters are the main characters played by stars who are usually always good.

Final Score: 7.5 / 10

Kingdom of Heaven (2005): Redemption and a Secular Society as the Road to Peace

Kingdom-of-Heaven_3

        “Kingdom of Heaven” is a great film! I’m at the point now where with historical films…I know there won’t be a truly historically accurate films, but how goes the story and how well is it capturing the world of our characters? I’d say on these counts “Kingdom of Heaven” captures this wonderfully. This film is also a good “Spot that ‘Game of Thrones'” character. I must say Ridley Scott does know how to do Epic as well as personal and this film manages to do both really well.

     The film was written and directed by Ridley Scott and produced by William Monahan.

      The story involves Balian (Orlando Bloom) seeking redemption in Jerusalem and the Crusade after the suicide of his wife and his learning from Baron Godfrey (Liam Neeson) that he is his bastard and heir and must go to serve the King of Jerusalem. Once he arrives he finds himself pulled into the politics as the Templars seek to break the peace with Saladin (Ghassan Massoud) while Balian seeks some sort of peace after he spares the life of Saladin’s second-in-command Nasir (Alexander Siddig) and to protect the Queen Sibylla (Eva Green) who is the woman he loves.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is stunning and Ridley Scott knows how to cast memorable scenes. From Balian being lost in the desert or the darkness of Jerusalem during the siege or time of trial. John Mathieson did a wonderful job on this and created stunning visuals.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is truly epic! It is good at incorporating traditional Arabic instruments and classic instruments and creating rising tension throughout the piece as well as some truly amazing fight music too. Harry Gregson-Williams was the right guy to choose for this soundtrack.

The Action – The battle scenes are amazing! The final battle of the Siege of Jerusalem is really well done as we get to see both siege weapons and a whole bunch of other styles of attack including the final attack after Saladin destroys the wall. Each of the action scenes has purpose too and it is only a few times where it feels like it drags.

The Characters – The characters are one of the strongest part of this film. I wanted to spend more time with them and not getting enough time in a 3 hour film really says a lot for how well they were written and acted. There are not many films that can make me say that, and “Kingdom of Heaven,” did.

Nasir – Alexander Siddig (Bashir of “DS9”) is wonderful as the second-in-command of Saladin and the mystic perspective in Islam as we see he cares about the Christians and sees that it is the good a person does that matters in the end. He attributes that good to God’s will but unlike one of the advisers he is always looking for another way as he has seen the humanity of the people he fights, for example Balian sparing his life and refusing to enslave him lead to him returning the favor and always acting with virtue wherever he was and whatever situation he was in. He was one of my favorite characters.

Sibylla – Eva Green brings a lot of depth to this role as we see someone torn in her role as she loves her brother the King who is a leper but also wants freedom and feels trapped in her role as she is seen as others as a political tool, except for the bastard Balian who never wanted power to begin with. Eventually she finds freedom giving up her role as Queen and becoming Balian’s wife while caring for her people who are now refugees after Saladin spares them.

Guy de Lusignan – Martin Csokas is the main villain in this as he believes God wants the destruction of the heretic and the ascension of the Templars. He is a good antagonist too and nearly succeeds in the assassination of Balian. His life is spared at the end so he still has the chance to become a good person, but given his scheming I think he’d most likely rebuild the Templars who Saladin destroyed and join with King Richard for the next Crusade.

Baron Godfrey – Liam Neeson plays Godfrey, a man who seeks redemption in his son and bastard who he eventually convinces to come to the Holy Land and who he defends against the corrupt local authority. He is injured in the process but is able to point Balian on the right path. He is the man who almost killed Saladin and is respected by all the factions in the region besides the Templars. Neeson plays the flawed wise man really well.

Balian – Orlando Bloom plays the broken noble hero really well. In this he is seeking redemption for his wife who committed suicide and in the end finds himself and realizes that a good God would not put her in Hell, especially as she is still in his heart. After the death of his father and releasing of Nasir he rules over his Baron which is a religiously plural land. This informs his perspective and why King Baldwin respects him as they work towards a peace with Saladin. It is knowing the danger that religion can bring that leads him to threaten to destroy all the holy places too so the fighting will stop…and Saladin agrees showing they both see that the places are hot-spots for instability among both their populaces. After the Siege he leaves with Eva who has become his lover and they give up their titles in order to live with peace simply and care for the refugees. It’s a cool arc and his denial of his role as Baron to King Richard shows that he has finally found peace away from the “Holy Land.”

Saladin – Saladin in the warrior king who we learn is conquering in order to appease the locals who want power and prestige (like the Templars). He is smart though and we see him try to make just decisions while dealing with his own fanatics. Eventually he does attack Jerasulem as he promised but he spares the populace after Balian negotiates terms as we see they both have a similar perspective and that there can’t be real peace if there is only death and loss.

King Baldwin – I didn’t even recognize Edward Norton in this role until I looked it up after. He is wearing a mask and does a wonderful job as the secular king ruling a religiously plural land. He is willing to to anything to keep the peace with Saladin including punishing his own religious fanatics (The Templars) and it is his example and strength that rubs off on both Saladin and Balian as he proves that you don’t need physical strength to have moral strength, and that morality doesn’t come from religion or the rules of religion.

The Importance of Secularism – Secularism is the point of this film as all the good leaders know that only in a place where Christians, Jews and Muslims can live in peace can there be peace…and this means no religion ahead of the others or passing laws against and oppressing the others. This is something the protagonists understand while the antagonists are driven by religion and the power they get from their position within the religion, be they Muslim fanatics or the Templars. Only in a society where there is room for multiple ideas and freedom to express those ideas, can there be peace.

The Danger of Religious Fanaticism – The danger of religious fanaticism is a huge theme too as it is this that leads Saladin to eventually attacking Jerusalem and it is the Templars who keep trying to start the war too as they see the Muslims as heathens and that only those who fight for God will be rewarded. Saladin and King Baldwin in the end are unable to control these factions which eventually leads to war and a breaking of the peace.

The Cons: Pacing – Sometimes it feels like it stretches for too long of time. For example when Balian first becomes Baron over his lands. These scenes stretched too long when we could have got more character moments with the Templars and the other factions in play. For example, I would have loved more time with Saladin.

  This was a powerful film with a message I fully endorse. The dangers of religious fanaticism cannot be warned against enough and this film does that while telling a powerful story and showing just how diverse this region of the world has always been religiously, politically and racially. It is also beautifully filmed, acted and written and is one of the best films to be created by Ridley Scott. If you are looking for a truly epic tale with a message that is timeless and will always ring true, you will probably like this film.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10