Droid defines the decades best movies – #18 Kingdom of Heaven (2005) Directors Cut

poster When I first saw ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ at the cinema I thought it was garbage.  It was ‘Gladiator’ all over again, except with an actor in the lead who would be more suited to miming in a boy band than leading the defence of Jerusalem against the vast Muslim army.  It felt slight, despite it’s almost two and a half hour running time.  There was little depth to the relationships and it seemed to touch on a subject then scuttle off in search of the nearest action scene.

A few years after I’d stricken it from the record, I noticed nattering amongst the ranks that a newly released Directors Cut had not only resurrected this flick from it’s shallow grave but gave it a brand new haircut and a shiny new suit as well.  So I checked out the re-released version, risking 194 minutes of my oh so precious time, and was absolutely amazed by what I saw.  It’s essentially the same film, but about ten times better.  What a difference 50 minutes can make.

Kingdom of Heaven 1 It’s 1184, and in a small village in France, blacksmith Balian (Orlando Bloom) has just buried his wife.  According to Christian beliefs, as a suicide (caused by grief from the loss of their son) she will spend eternity in hell.  Soon after, Baron Godfrey of Ibelin (Liam Neeson) comes seeking Balian, explaining that he is his father, and asks him to join him in Jerusalem.  With the possibility of atoning for his wife’s sins as well as his own, he reluctantly agrees (the situation doesn’t allow for much else).  While en route, Godfrey is killed, and Balian inherits not only his fathers title, but also becomes a knight of the kingdom.  He eventually leads the defence of Jerusalem against Saladin (Ghassan Massoud) and the Muslim army who are fighting to reclaim the holy city.

Kingdom of Heaven 6 ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ has a terrific cast.  Liam Neeson and David Thewlis are effective early on, and once we get to Jerusalem we are introduced to Jeremy Irons, Eva Green, Brendan Gleeson, Martin Csokas and an unrecognisable Edward Norton.  The only actor that feels wrong is Orlando Bloom.  In the Directors Cut, his character is fleshed out and much more effective than the Theatrical version.  But the problem remains the same.  It’s just difficult to suspend disbelief and accept that he could be a knight, let alone a leader of people.  In some scenes it appears he can barely lift the sword, let alone wield it effectively.  It’s not a question of effort, because Bloom tries his best.  It’s a cliché, but he just doesn’t have the necessary gravitas for the role.  I imagine Russell Crowe in the role and I can safely say this would be in my Top 10 of the decade.

Kingdom of Heaven 2But the actor I am completely bewildered by is Brendan Gleeson.  He plays his character as such a cartoonish buffoon that it stands outside every other character in the film.  It’s a complete miscalculation and his screen time is thankfully brief.  Martin Csokas is suitably hateful as the self-serving snake Guy, and Eva Green is both noble and conflicted as Princess Sibylla.  The stand out performances are from Ghassan Massoud as the cool as a cucumber Saladin and Alexander Siddig as Imad ad-Din.  Both create memorable, noble characters from their too few scenes.

Kingdom of Heaven 3 But the most amazing performance is Edward Norton as the leper King Baldwin.  Hidden behind a metal mask so that we only see his eyes, it is truly a remarkable performance and one that, if this were the version released theatrically, would have been universally praised.  When I saw the film at the cinema, I didn’t even realise he was in it.  He creates the character entirely through body language, his expressive eyes and distinct delivery of dialogue.  It’s my favourite performance of his by a long shot and ranks up there with the best I’ve seen.

Kingdom of Heaven 5 Ridley Scott is a great director.  But he’s got a huge problem with consistency.  When he’s good, his movies are brilliant.  But when he’s not, his movies are unwatchable garbage.  Here he manages both those feats with the same movie.  Whoever convinced him to allow the edited version to be released should be fed to the chipper.  The Directors Cut has so many fascinating subplots and the characters are fleshed out so that we actually understand their motivations.  The subplot with Princess Sibylla’s son is a prime example.  Without it, Sibylla seems to make random decisions that make no sense.  When included in the context of the film, it explains everything and lends the film an emotional weight it didn’t have before.  It’s actually fascinating from a filmmaking perspective just to see the difference these changes have made.  Unfortunately, the success of this convinced me to watch the ‘Troy’ Directors Cut, hoping for lightening to strike twice.  It didn’t.  It’s just as unwatchable as before, just longer.  I daren’t go near the ‘Alexander’ Directors Cut.

‘Kingdom of Heaven’ Directors Cut is a flawed, almost, not quite, very near masterpiece.  Despite it’s flaws, it ranks second only to Alien as my favourite Ridley Scott film and is one of my favourite of the decade.


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About Judge Droid

In between refining my procrastination skills I talk a lot of shit about movies and such.

30 responses to “Droid defines the decades best movies – #18 Kingdom of Heaven (2005) Directors Cut”

  1. Bartleby says :

    Ok, I still prefer Blade Runner and possibly the Legend Director’s Cut, but this is indeed a fantastic film…in this form. The original cut is just a frustrating miss. This one is improved in every way. It’s an old fashioned epic that could have only been perfected by recasting the lead as someone with more grit in their craw. The number of things that were cut here to make this thing ready for ‘theatrical’ release were criminal. I think there were at least 2 complete characters that had been excised all together.

    Great review Droid. Ambitious thing you are doing here, writing individual reviews for each one. I think I may do that for my top 10 of the decade. Bravo!

    • Droid says :

      Ambitious thing you are doing here, writing individual reviews for each one.

      Ambitious, or foolhardy? I think I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, Jonah. I’m too bloody lazy!

    • Droid says :

      I actually don’t really like Blade Runner that much. Visually amazing, but the story and characters left me cold.

      Legend is garbage. In my humble opinion of course. Soft lensed shots of unicorns ain’t my bag.

  2. M. Blitz says :

    Haven’t seen this. Either of ’em. Well, might have caught a bit on tv at some point. You are right, Orlando Bloom is certainly a problem!

    Alexander, however, is hilarious……nearly on par with the hilarity of The Doors.

  3. xiphos0311 says :

    I agree with Frank, while the added footage adds a bit to improving the quality of the movie, it still doesn’t approach being a good movie and its all due the that goofy fey elf. I kept thinking he was going to “surf” down a railing firing a bow any second.

    Well you had a nice two movie streak going on Droid…

  4. xiphos0311 says :

    Also is there another actor anywhere in the acting world less suited to be cast as a blacksmith then Orlando Bloom? Andy Dick maybe? And yet Bloom gets cast twice as blacksmith, Jesus Hollywood pull your head out.

  5. Koutchboom says :

    Yeah I may need to go back and watch this cut. But I’m not a fan of Scott films in general so I don’t see this making me like it more.

    • Droid says :

      Check it out if you get the chance, Koutch. It completely changed my opinion of it (obviously). Scott is very hit and miss.

  6. ThereWolf says :

    Good review, Droid.

    Can’t add anything else at this juncture – coz this is in my Top 10, so I’ll add a bit more when that’s posted!

    Great film.

    • Droid says :

      Huzzah! Some bloody support! I’ll look forward to your thoughts, Wolf.

      • ThereWolf says :

        Well, I won’t go over the top coz you’ve done the business here. But I do disagree on a couple of things – principally Orlando. I think this is is one and only ‘performance’ to date. Sir Ridley takes the pressure off him with the visuals and a strong supporting cast. For me, he’s a perfect fit in the role. Are there stronger actors who could’ve essayed a better Balian? Yep. But it’s Orlando, and he’s okay.

  7. Droid says :

    You’re a tough man to please, Frankie. Did it require more cleavage? 😉

  8. lord bronco says :

    Oh for Fuck’s sake, some online review douchebag compared Avatar to Transformers 2 to Hurt locker.

    This lazy fuck ought to be drawn and quartered, especially for spoilers towards the end of the review about Avatar.

    This motherfucker… how hard is it to write a fucking movie review?

  9. Droid says :

    Spoilers in reviews are unforgivable, and lazy fucking writing. I do about one paragraph on the plot, and try to be as vague as possible.

    • Bartleby says :

      true, although occassionaly, someone will call you out for spoilers when they arent. When I wrote my Box review someone showed up saying “if you are struggling with what to say, don’t give copious plot details. You ruined the movie for me. thanks.”

      My ruining information: Diaz and Marsden push the button–which happens twenty minutes in and without which there would have been no movie. Ebert himself gave away more info than that.

      • Droid says :

        You mean Diaz pushes the button? Fucking hell, Jonah! You’ve ruined the goddamn movie for me! Fuck! 😉

      • Bartleby says :

        Hell, I don’t consider anything about The Box a spoiler. Look, I didn’t spoil the movie for you…Richard Kelly takes care of that all by himself.

      • koutchboom says :

        They actually show it in some trailers.

      • Droid says :

        Was it not clear that I was joking?

      • koutchboom says :

        No I got that I was just pointing it out.

      • Droid says :

        A strange man with half a face knocks on the door with an offer. He hands the couple a box with a button on it. he tells them that if they press the button someone dies, but they will recieve a million dollars. The couple think about it, but decide their conscience couldn’t allow it and decline the offer. The man with half a face nods knowingly and closes the door behind him on the way out. The couple open a bottle of red and enjoy an evening in watching ‘The Notebook’. Credits roll. The film went for 6 minutes.

        Fuck some people are morons.

  10. just pillow talk says :

    I loved the director’s cut. Since the rest of the movie and cast is so strong, I can overlook any shortcomings by Bloom, and still enjoy the hell out of this movie.

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