For Every Action, There Is An Equal And Considerably More Bigoted Reaction.
Kingdom of Heaven
Kingdom of Heaven is an important film. Released in a time where tensions between the Christian and Muslim world are stretched to the near breaking point, this well-crafted film shows that not only are wars over religion not worth fighting, they’re certainly not worth watching. And for once, this abysmally dull Oscar grab fails not because of Ridley Scott. Not that Ridley Scott is not a gifted man. He has a fine eye for visuals, undeniable flair, and he knows how to tell a story. He does not, however, appear to have any idea whatsoever as to which stories to tell. I’m convinced this is because the man cannot read, as there is no other explanation for the widely dynamic range between good and bad in his filmography. Producers must just walk up to him and pitch a log line, or just write a bunch of numbers on a check to get him to sign on for some of these projects, without even bothering to send him the script, knowing that he’ll pawn it off on an overworked personal assistant or leave it at the hairdresser's after using the title page to doodle stick figures humping while he waits for his appointment. I’ll admit that Alien and Blade Runner were half-way decent, and I’ll even tolerate the occasional praise for The Duelists, but I defy anyone with a three-digit IQ to not burst out laughing at the sight of the poster for Black Rain, and somebody really needs to explain to me how a film called G.I. Jane is not a comedy.
The main problem with Kingdom of Heaven is that it presents the violent religious wars of the Crusades with an even hand, faulting neither side but praising them both, thus removing any ounce of conflict from the final product. I’m not saying that the movie has to be based on Monolith Deathcult lyrics, or god forbid an A.C. song, but this movie is about war, not two noble warriors in a cold war chess match. Somebody has to be right, and somebody has to be wrong, or I don’t give a rat’s ass about the outcome. I understand that the filmmakers are trying to be sensitive, but I’m not interested in watching divorce court mediation. I need a protagonist and an antagonist, not some pimply faced grad student in corduroys holding my hand through a devil’s advocate discussion on Palestinian rights, or there’s no emotional investiture. And I’m not saying the Arabs have to be the bad guys. In fact, it’s best that they aren’t, because judging from films like Cinderella Man, Hollywood has a grasp of subtlety as firm as a sodomite’s bowels. They don’t need to portray Muslims as evil, and I’m not asking them to reduce the script to medieval discourses on heresies. After all, we're all intelligent, open minded liberals here in the Western world. We all know Muslims aren’t baby eating monsters. That’s the Jews. But somebody needs to grow some balls and take a side in this film. Why not make the Christians evil? Hell, the fact that the two sides are fighting over a worthless chunk of desert that’s only valuable because it’s mentioned in a shared fairy tale, makes them both out to be bad guys. I don’t care, just do something except muse poetically about the nobility and tragedy of war.
Yup. That's noble, alright.
I know I complain a lot about how Hollywood reduces complex issues to simplistic answers, but faced with the alternative, I’d rather a sweeping generalization than safe, calming pap dished out with a silver spoon and a blue lens filter. Good or bad, I need something to react to. Sometimes I'll agree with a film’s point of view, and sometimes I won’t, but without one, I’m uninterested. Is a little subtle racism too much to ask? Maybe an undercurrent of moral superiority, or a disparaging view of women? There’s got to be something objectionable in a movie. Otherwise, I’ve got nothing to climb on my moral high horse about, and I have to actually discuss the film in terms of boring technical elements like every other reviewer internet reviewer with an IMDB log-in, focusing on the cinematography (pretty, but so is stained glass and I don’t need to spend ten bucks to stare at that for two hours) and score (sounds like someone got the Prague Symphony Orchestra to cover one of those CDs of elevator music you can get at Starbucks). Or, heaven forbid, I might have to talk about the performances or the lame and predictable story, which has a blacksmith, played by Orlando Bloom, go to Jerusalem, where either God or a lazy screenwriter blesses him with the ability to plan perfect military campaigns without any training or experience whatsoever. Bloom seems to have a thing for playing in period pieces and fooling around with swords, possibly because his femme hair, sharp cheekbones, and pretty boy Eton accent would have him strapped to a fence post and beaten to death by the brain-dead Midwest frat boys that infest North America like rats in oversized basketball jerseys should he ever join the modern world. And I’ll bet you that if Ridley Scott made a movie about that, he’d give the frat boys’ side of the story.