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

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        “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

K-PAX (2001): The Power of an Outsider

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  “K-PAX” is a good film. It’s not a favorite film as at times it was a little confusing and it could sometimes be slow, but it has some great character development, fascinating situations and the acting is really good. It is definitely a sci. fi. worth watching and the premise itself is very intriguing.

     The film was directed by Iain Softley, written by Charles Leavitt and produced by Robert Colesberry, Lawrence Gordon and Lloyd Levin and is based off the book of the same name by Gene Brewer.

     The story involves a man named Prot (Kevin Spacey) who believes himself to be an alien from the world of K-Pax. The story unfolds as he is taken into an asylum where he is treated by Dr. Mark Powell (Jeff Bridges). Prot changes the people in the asylum and Mark has he provides insights some of which he would only know if he was alien as Mark seeks to discover the traumatic event that Prot refuses to speak about that drives the story forward.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – Edward Shearmur did a fantastic job giving the soundtrack a sci. fi. and introspective feel. I liked how it helped us see the world through Prot’s eyes and showed us just how alien the world felt to him.

The Cinematography – John Mathieson did a wonderful job on the cinematography. Everything feels like it is a surreal dream, which I think is purposeful since so much of the film is from Prot’s perspective and how he makes others change their perspective. There are lots of moments of stark contrast but also soft scenes that contrast the use of dark and light.

The Members of the Asylum – The Asylum is a fascinating place as the people there aren’t bad. Mental illness is not presented in a negative light which was great as it humanized the flawed people. There is Bess who leaves at the end, a man who thinks everything stinks, the man who is afraid of things that can kill him and the one who Prot puts in charge and gives tasks too. All of them have a humanity to them and a stark way of expressing themselves contrasted with the Doctors and Prot who are all very reserved.

Prot – Prot is a great character. He is an alien from K-PAX (the film establishes this based on people’s reaction to when he is Robert Porter again) and we get the story of how he came to Earth. It was to save Robert’s life as Robert was his friend whose family was murdered by a killer. All of this we learn over time through the eyes of Mark Powell who is the Doctor treating Prot. It’s a sad story and we see how kind Prot is in how he wants everyone to heal and to live. All the actions he does at the Asylum help the inmates to feel joy and to get out of their routine. When he leaves it is felt by all and Kevin Spacey does a masterful job in the role.

Mark Powell – Jeff Bridges is the Doctor who ends up believing Prot while at the same time seeking out the story of his host. He learns about the tragedy of Robert Porter and takes care of Porter after. He is also alienated from his family and obsessed with his work until Prot reminds him that he only has so long to live so should make the choices in life that build relationships with those you care about, not destroy or alienate them. At the end we see he understands this as he cares for the catatonic Robert Porter.

The Message – The message is to remember to connect with others and to make choices that bring about healing in yourself and those around you. Everything Prot does is to this end and we see that his saving Robert’s life has given him happiness even if he can’t express it at the end. We only have so much time alive, so make the most of all relationships.

The Ending  – Prot leaves at the end in a ray of light leaving Robert Porter’s body who is alive now and catatonic. The inmates whisper about it and it is very mysterious and reminded me a lot of “The Green Mile.” I enjoyed the ending too as Mark’s last act is reestablishing his relationship once more with his son.

The Cons: The Other Doctors – The other Doctors are pretty bland don’t feel all that fleshed out. They don’t really have much power as agents either as everything they do is a reaction to Prot or Mark which I disliked since there quite a few of them that appeared throughout the film consistently…but we learned nothing about them or their motivations.

Mark’s Family – Mark’s family has the same problem as the Doctors. I had no idea what they wanted besides time with Mark and they felt like they were needed so that Prot’s point would be stronger about relationships mattering, but I didn’t care about them. I knew and cared about Robert’s family than I did them since Robert’s backstory of working at a slaughterhouse and the dreams he shared with Prot were much more compelling.

Pacing – The pacing was very slow which at times was good for the introspective moments but there were many times I had to make sure I knew what was going on as it was too slow to fully register a sequence of events that had just occurred. This film could have been much faster, had more character actions and it would have been better for it. The only really fast moment were when the members of the Asylum reacted and when Prot panics when Mark’s kids are playing in the water and he thinks they’re going to drown.

“K-PAX” is a movie worth seeing. The ideas are good, the main characters are great and Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges are truly phenomenal. Just know that the minor characters who aren’t inmates in the Asylum are really bland and that the pacing doesn’t help. These are the reasons why that even though I liked the film, I cannot consider it a favorite or great overall. It is a good film though and there is a lot of like in it, even with the problems it has.

Final Score: 8.2 / 10