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When the credits were rolling, i had but one thought in my head: righteous, despite-themselves heroes can be so boring. Typically, antagonistic confrontations are much more interesting. There lies the main weakness of this movie, preventing it from being great, in spite of breathtaking visuals and a fantastic recreation of a key period in history that is quite relevant to where we are today in our world.
Balian (Orlando Bloom) is a smart, charismatic and talented young man in search of redemption. He decides to lead an irreproachable life of good deeds and go to the Holy land where all sins can be forgiven. Little does he know that he will be thrown into one of the most tormented period of history as the Holy land is in a precarious peace. Quickly, he gains the respect from people at the highest places, including the peace-minded leper King of Jerusalem himself (Edward Norton) and his first minister (Jeremy Irons), while of course making lots of enemies. He also gets romantically involved with the King's sister herself (Eva Green) which only complicates things as she is married to a powerful Templar Knight (Marton Csokas) who has no other desire but to unseat the current King and re-ignite the Holy war against the Muslims. Determined to take the moral high road and not yield to the pressure from many people around him asking him to become the King's successor at the cost of several executions of high-ranking people in the way, Balian refuses to take center stage in the conflict and lets History take over.
Set about 100 years after Christians took over Jerusalem and brutally massacred all Muslims living there, the film plunges you with great details into that period, its political intrigue, and gives you a front-row seat to the making of a religious war of historical proportions. The film brilliantly exposes all the characters, their motivations, and how all the events of that time inextricably conspired to cause a great war. This is where the 194mn Director's cut that came out on DVD in May 2006 shines compared to the 145mn version that was released in the theaters. The richness of the story demands a longer running time to fully present all the characters and the political intrigue. This sense of detail is enhanced by the breathtaking visual re-creation of the time and place of the story. Technically, the film is nothing short of amazing and it deserves to be seen in the theaters (too late for that now, although, as i just mentioned, the theatrical version was butchered) or at least on a decent home-theater set-up.
The film is not without faults though, and they are unfortunately rather damaging. In a strange combination of miscasting and a script that failed in just one area, the film loses most of its power and ability to get you involved emotionally with the main character. Orlando Bloom, for one reason or another, simply does not have the presence needed for the role, and it makes his character very one-dimentional and uninteresting. Maybe it's the good-guy syndrome. There is very little conflict in his head and his determination to lead a moral life would make Christ blush. This would be interesting if there were deeper conflicts within himself, or personal suffering as a result, but instead, he ends up saving the day and getting out of the mess he got himself into pretty much scott free. The writing is also challenged many times to show this character's grandeur, but fails more often than it succeeds. His leadership qualities are not clear, and sometimes, things seem to happen in his favor just... because. What's the point of a larger-than-life hero if he feels so damn small on the big screen?
It is clear with the Director's cut version of the film that this could have been a masterpiece. The theatrical cut of the film was a B at best. Do get the 4-disk DVD with this version, and also first-rate documentaries. This version definitely had all the elements to make it that way in terms of the expanse of the story, its rich set of characters and depiction of political intrigue at war time, its historical importance and relevance to day's events. Technically flawless, the film will swallow you as a spectator with its beauty. But faulty writing and a lead role that missed the mark will prevent you from being more than just a spectator and be involved emotionally with what's going on. That's a shame.
- Laurent Hasson