When a blacksmith (Orlando Bloom) discovers he is the son of a knight (Liam Neeson), he goes to Jerusalem to continue his father’s legacy. There he finds a land torn apart by religious conflict between the Christians led by King Baldwin (Edward Norton) with his war-hungry generals Reynald (Brendan Gleeson) and Guy (Martin Csokas), and the Muslim King Saladin (Ghassan Massoud).
Ridley Scott’s first ‘sword and sandal’ adventure since the wildly successful Gladiator successfully captures that film’s immaculate world building. The visual quality is astounding, featuring the best medieval battle sequences ever filmed and remarkably authentic-looking costumes. The scale is epic but never looks heavily CGId, and a colleague of mine who’s an expert on the medieval history described it as one of the most accurate representations of that period ever put to film.
Where it fails to meet Gladiator‘s standard is in the emotional appeal, never living up to its tear-jerking drama. It’s well-written, pacy, and does an excellent job of capturing the medieval worldview while not making it impossible to relate to the characters. It just lacks the emotional oomph to truly make an impact.
It’s vastly superior to the borderline camp Alexander (to use my full title) which came out the previous year. Orlando Bloom is a better choice than Colin Farrel, and there are strong supporting performances from Gleeson, Norton (masked throughout) and Jeremy Irons as Tiberius.
Made in 2005, it’s impossible to escape the parallels with the conflicts raging at that time, and how surreal it is that a millennium after the film is set, similar conflicts persist on the same land along very familiar divisions. Unlike Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings or Martin Scorsese’s missionary-base drama Silence it takes a more critical view of organised religion in general, and reads as a plea for mutual understanding and common ground.
As a result it’s an interesting and moderately enjoyable watch, even if it is somewhat lacking dramatically. If Gladiator is cinematic heaven, this is much more down to earth.