96%Overall Score
Reader Rating: (2 Votes)
95%

This film ends up being arguably the best director’s cut ever made.

It’s hard to call Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven his best director’s cut, simply because so many cuts of Blade Runner exist that it’s hard to truly say which one is his version. However, in the realm of bloated releases adding ten minutes and a temp track to a movie and labeling it a director’s cut, Kingdom of Heaven blows away the competition by transforming a middling movie into a truly historical epic. It could easily be one of the top ten movies released in the entire decade of the 2000’s.

The movie follows Balian as he travels to Jerusalem. Previously a lowly blacksmith, his wife has committed suicide and his scheming brother, a priest, has cut off her head so she cannot go to heaven. After murdering him, Balian learns he was born into royalty. As a result, his path takes him to the holy land where politics and constant threats of war lead to seismic shifts of power terraforming every day, causing him to make extremely difficult decisions over the fate of man and the fate of his soul. The movie deals with the battle for the holy land as the Muslims and the Christians navigate parties on both ends attempting to sabotage their fragile truce and claim the kingdom of heaven for their own once and for all.

From the first frame to frame out, it’s hard not to get swept up in the film’s stirring cinematography. Robbed of an Oscar nomination, the transfer is so stunning you could put the film on mute just to adore the sweeping visuals of the Middle East. To do so would be a disservice to one of the best scripts around. The Director’s cut doesn’t add an additional scene here or there. It adds complexity and complete character transformations from the first frame. You learn much more about Balian and the reason he goes to Jerusalem, along with his knights traveling along side him. The script turns Orlando Bloom, playing Balian, into a seasoned actor and makes it arguably his best role to date. Eva Green, playing the queen of Jerusalem, with a leper’s son, turns in her best performance ever. Her role in the director’s cut is greatly expanded to show the full range of her abilities.

Not content to be another sword and sandals epic, Ridley Scott and the writer Monahan have painstakingly put together a picture of all the major players in the holy land, and given them strong motivations to do what they do. Uncredited, Edward Norton turns a potential Oscar nominated role as the present King with leprosy and Jeremy Irons adds appropriate weight as a knight trying to keep the peace.

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The film ends up shining with complexity. The issues between Christians and Muslims are nothing new, but it doesn’t seem to be afraid to show the good men on each side, or the marauders on each side hell bent on creating a war for the ages. It’s almost stupefying how blindsided some of these men are, and how quickly the table turns on each one with unexpected results.
The score in the movie is painfully subdued. Allowing a more Mediterranean feel towards the atmosphere and tone, it rarely elongates to a full fledged symphony and the movie is better off for this. The soundtrack picks up in the action sequences, but it really stars in every scene of political intrigue, discording strings and cellos to ensnare you into the tumultuous situation in which everyone finds themselves. It is an underrated weapon in almost all of Ridley Scott’s films, and it’s hard pressed to find any of them with a better score than this.

Of course the film suffers in its comparisons to Ridley’s Scott’s better received Gladiator. Gladiator won best picture, a rarity for a film released during the summer. Hardly anyone would watch Gladiator and describe it as anything less than a masterpiece, especially its opening battle, which is easily as dramatic as storming the beach in Saving Private Ryan. But Gladiator is not a better movie than Kingdom of Heaven. Gladiator had you caring about three characters at most, which is fine, since the movie and time period did not need you to care about much else other than Maximus’ journey of revenge. Kingdom of Heaven, however, dares you to not only love your allies, but love your enemy. It’s bold when the antagonist comes off better than most of the protagonists, and it would be extremely easy for the film to paint Saladin as a middle eastern mad man, but it doesn’t. Saladin struggles with the pressures of being a king, and dealing with his own extremist. Despite having members of his family slaughtered during the movie, he does not wish to shed more blood, even those who would easily stab him in the back. This makes him an honorable man, but does not make you want for Balian to endure any less.

Of course, most of the points above stem back to the issue of coordination and directing. On a very top heavy career, Ridley Scott shows he deserves to be considered one of the best with this picture. The movie has a tight constraint, but creates a world fully lived in. It creates a message that is earned by the story told, not by outside influences from other sources. It gives its characters a reason to exist, and a reason to live. Kingdom of Heaven tells us the heart and the soul can never be surrendered, a heady proposition and often misguided. But in the times and events that take place during the film, this small part equates to the very essence of the film. The question asked causes thousands to die, but allows a man to keep his soul. What does that equal? Where is that in the grand scheme of the world and history? Rare is the movie that brings up these questions and allows you to form your own conclusions. That’s a testament to the script, and also to the themes at play.

It’s pity that word of mouth allowed this movie to tank. If the marketing and director’s cut would have been released in the fall and winter season respectively, there’s no doubt this film would have been received differently. It’s rare to call such a brilliant film misunderstood, but that’s where we stand with Kingdom of Heaven. It is one of the best, not only of its year but of its decade. It’s a must watch for any cinephile, or any person who wants to sit down with their friends and experience the full breadth of cinema in all its glory. It would be hard to issue much higher praise than to go out and blind buy this immediately, but that’s the only conclusion that can be found. It will be an underrated masterpiece that will elevate any collection and cause you to revisit it again and again, due to it’s sheer narrative scope and ambition.

Released (2005 FOX)

Starring Orlando Bloom, Jeremy Irons, Eva Green, Edward Norton and Liam Neeson

Directed by: Ridley Scott

Written by: William Monahan.

 

About The Author

David
Creator / Managing Editor

David Postma is the creator, co-managing editor, and writer for Filmtakeout. After receiving an Associates Degree in Journalism from Grand Rapids Community College in 2006, he attended Columbia in Chicago where he graduated in 2010 with a Bachelors in Film. Dave interned at Lionsgate Studios in 2008 where he worked in both the Television department and the New Media department. Dave also runs a production company, Beyond the Horizon, which helped to produce "Weed Road", a hit reality show on the Discovery channel. He currently assists with Global Benefits LLC in financing for commercial, real estate, and entertainment ventures; and he recently became Chief Operating Officer at M6 International where he assists both in financing structures for the company and helping assist overseeing productions of entertainment and commercial projects across the company stratosphere. Dave also sits on the board of directors for Downbeat Collective, a non profit dedicated to creating artistic endeavors to help provide funding to non profit organizations of various need.