At the movies: Kingdom of Heaven

In brief: 2.5 stars out of 4, thumbs up with reservations.

At greater length:

Scott knows how to do battle scenes. I have seen Gladiator and Blackhawk Down and the action sequences in those films had me wanting to bob and weave to avoid the dangers and that was so in Kingdom of Heaven. The R rating was well deserved for violence.

Orlando Bloom fans should be happy as he gets to be the main man here. He still looks a bit young for such a big role but I felt he did reasonably well. It was nice to see him get the "Aragorn" role and give the rousing speeches to rally the troops.

Eva Green is alluring but the romance wasn't compelling to me. The romance seemed obligatory and didn't add much.

The Neeson-Bloom father-son relationship worked for me. There wasn't a lot of screen time to build that relationship but it was effective. Give Neeson lots of credit for a super performance here.

Post movie discussions will touch on the history of the Crusades. One wonders how good is the "history" in the film? I suspect most viewers are like me in knowing little to nothing about the Crusades. I'll leave the historical analysis to others. As I come across history web links, I'll be sure to update this post.

As a religious and family values conscious viewer there are many things to talk about after the movie. One issue with much contemporary weight is how do people of differing religious faith interact?

In the film, the bad guys are the Christian factions (Templar Knights and their supporters in the King's court) who want war. The good guys are the Christian King of Jerusalem (young but dying of leprosy) and the Muslim leader Saladin both of whom desire to keep the peace and allow access for all faiths to the shrines in Jerusalem.

Here is where I don't know how well Scott and company did their history homework. Movies tend to simplify historical characters. But for this review, until I have more history information, I'll take these characterizations as correct.

As a Christian, I don't approve of all that is done under the banner of Christianity today and certainly object to what the bad guys in the film do in the name of Christianity. We (Christians) should not defend the indefensible. We should also point out that that those factions weren't all of Christianity then and don't characterize Christianity today.

Living in our modern context, I see today's bad guys as the Muslim factions that conduct terrorism. I know that that faction doesn't represent all of Islam. I'm sure some in the Christian and Muslim communities will complain about the movie for this slight or that stereotype. However, if the film stirs a dialog about making moral distinction among so called adherents of faith who do evil versus the ones who are trying to live out their faith genuinely then that is a good thing.

Another area for discussion would be how should religious people view the historical artifacts of their religious faiths? All three monotheistic faiths have shrines to their religions in Jerusalem. How important are the places of our faiths? Are these places worth waging war over?

I feel the film gives mixed messages on this point. I don't want to spoil the movie for my dear readers by going into why I feel this way but if you see the film you will know what I mean. Perhaps the ambiguity on this is intentional reflecting the mixed feelings people have on this point.

I can only speak for Christianity in regards to the historicity of that faith. Indeed, Christianity contains a code of conduct and religious rituals that are independent of Jerusalem, the "Kingdom of Heaven" of the movie's title. However, it must be pointed out that Christianity's key theological dogma (Jesus dying on the Cross and Resurrecting) is premised on historical events in Jerusalem. Personally, I hope someday to visit Jerusalem and other areas in the Middle East described by both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. But, if I don't ever get to go, my faith would be intact because when Jesus said, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, he meant it in the sense the KING is here.

Finally, I think the film could generate interesting discussion about decision-making and qualities of leadership. Each character was faced with tough choices and they don't always make good ones. Scott and company muddled how religious faith informs their decisions but just because the moviemakers do doesn't mean we need to also when we do post-movie chit chat.

I’m recommending the film with the caveat on violence and encouragement to discuss issues raised in the film and some fact checking on the history of the Crusades.

Disclosure: I saw the film at a pre-release screening for the press and was a guest of Grace Hill Media.

Images sourced from Yahoo! Movies Production Stills Page for Kingdom of Heaven.