Set during the crusades in the 12th century, this Ridley Scott film is epic in scope and full of quite breathtaking visuals. The time period of the film puts it several years before King Richard’s crusade, at a time when European Christians still control Jerusalem. The film centers around Balian (Orlando Bloom), the bastard son of Godfrey (Liam Neeson), who is a Baron of the kingdom of Jerusalem. Balian’s wife has killed herself and he sets out from France with his father on a journey of religious redemption.
The journey to Jerusalem is a hard one and Godfrey dies along the way; however other characters are met, and after much difficulty Balian reaches Jerusalem and the movie truly begins. Balian (now a Baron after the death of his father) is thrust into the turbulent politics of Jerusalem. Which are complicated by increasing tensions between Christian zealots and adherents to other religions, the failing health of Jerusalem’s leprous king, and the threat of the Muslim armies of Saladin which surround the kingdom. The story unfolds around Balian as he tries to adhere to his princicples in the face of these issues.
At its heart this film is about principles and the ultimate danger of fanaticism. To this end Balian is an interesting compass, first as a Christian who is losing his faith, and later as something of a secular humanist. The film contains many moral lessons but rarely feels “preachy.” Excellent acting by an all-star cast allows the characters to seem human even while playing through the moral messages of the film.
However, there are some serious problems with the film, especially with the theatrical release. The most egregious of these problems is that there are holes in the plot. Some characters’ actions are left largely unexplained and the motives of many others are murky at best. These problems sometimes make the story hard to follow, and certainly make it harder for audiences to sympathize with characters whose actions they simply cannot understand. Thankfully, there is a director’s cut of the film which utilizes approximately half an hour more material to address these issues.
I would recommend this film strongly – even in its theatrical release it is worth watching as the acting and the visuals are top notch. If you can get the director’s cut version and have the time to watch it, do yourself a favor and get it.
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