In the wake of the Passion, Hollywood began searching for material that would be marketable to the hordes of hitherto neglected “faith group.” Kingdom of Heaven, which has been advertising in the conservative World Magazine, presumably is one of these new movies aimed at one of the largest spending groups in America: the conservative Christian.

After returning from viewing the movie at the Zanuck Theatre at the Fox Picture Studios (courtesy the amazing Grace Hill Media staff), I can only say that Hollywood has swung and missed. Badly. If they expect conservative Christians to support “Kingdom of Heaven” with their dollars, they are sorely mistaken.


The story centers around Balian (Orlando Bloom), a former blacksmith who ends up embroiled in late 12th century Jerusalem politics. When the story opens, Christians hold the city while King Baldwin the IV strives to maintain a tenuous peace with the nearby Muslim force, led by Saladin (Ghassan Massoud). Guy de Lusignan–member of the Knights Templar, husband of Sibylla (King Baldwin’s daughter), and eventual King of Jerusalem (when Baldwin dies) instigates a war between Jerusalem and Saladin, a war that leads to the Jerusalem’s main force total destruction. Balian, who is Lusignan’s rival, is left to defend Jerusalem against the coming forces of Saladin.

“Kingdom of Heaven” is less about religious pluralism than something like secular humanism. Jerusalem is a place where anyone can become anything–the blacksmith becomes the Lord and the Lord becomes the beggar. The movie repeatedly returns to the supremacy of an individual’s character over any sort of “religiousity.” Balian remarks at one point, “It’s the kingdom of conscience–or nothing” (apparently Balian’s conscience has lots to say about murder, but nothing to say about adultery). In the last stand against the Saracens, he cries, “No one has a claim [to the holy sites of Jerusalem]. All people have a claim. We fight not for Jerusalem but for the people inside Jerusalem.” Ultimatlely, “Holiness is right action. . . . It’s the decisions that you make every day.”

While the emphasis on virtue is commendable, by separating it from the truth claims of Christianity, director Ridley Scott sucks any sense of power out of the plot. The “evil” in this movie is defeated when Lusignan stupidly leads the forces of Jerusalem to certain destruction at the hands of Saladin. Yet the final scenes are composed of two armies (Saladin’s and Balian’s), both of which we are supposed to admire, destroying each other. The fact that neither of them is either “evil” or “good” makes the battle feel dull and unengaging. Of course, if one of them was “evil”, Scott would have evoked the ire of pluralists the world-round, even if it would have helped his plot significantly.

Additionally, Balian, who has neither evil to fight nor cause to die for, is left with the task of inspiring his troops, which he barely manages to do. One can’t help compare Balian’s final speech (“Let them come! Come on! Come on!”) with Mel Gibson’s in Braveheart (“What will you do without freedom?”). Balian’s lack of material (he couldn’t really rally his troops to fight for God, King, and Country against the forces of evil, though it certainly would have been more poetic and inspiring) is directly related to Scott’s insistence on his message, which produces a humdrum, anti-climatic ending. In contrast, Gibson’s obvious sense of good and evil led to a dramatic and arresting plot and dialogue.

This is not the sort of movie that is going to draw large crowds of conservative Christians. Scott is relentless in his humanistic, anti-religious message, so much so that my friend remarked that it felt like anti-religious “digs” spliced between action sequences (and very violent action sequences, at that–not for the faint of heart). If the message doesn’t keep conservative Christians away, the uncaptivating plot and dialogue will. The costumes and sets are lavish, but are not enough to redeem “Kingdom of Heaven.”

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.


  1. I wasn’t under the impression that “Kingdom of Heaven” was being tauted as a “must see” by pastors in pulpits across the nation… an advertising scheme which succeeded in the case of “The Passion” and is probably necessary to produce a repeat box-office performance.

    Most of my aquaintances are only going to see the film because of the sole virtue commonly known as “Orlando Bloom’s Face” and I doubt the lack of good and evil will trouble them much.


  2. I wasn’t under the impression that “Kingdom of Heaven” was being tauted as a “must see” by pastors in pulpits across the nation… an advertising scheme which succeeded in the case of “The Passion” and is probably necessary to produce a repeat box-office performance.

    I didn’t mean to imply this. It’s clearly not. But it’s a fairly telling fact that they’ve run full-page ads in World the last few weeks. I don’t think I’ve seen a movie since the Passion advertise in World.


  3. I was afraid it would be what you’ve said it is. I don’t know who in their right mind thought it would be a good idea to make a film about the Crusades in this day and age. They should’ve just made a film about Baldwin. I mean, come on! A young king of a wartorn country dying of leprosy whose men love him and never challenge him for power? What’s cooler than that?


  4. Hmm….Interesting review, it helped a lot. While it didnt discourage me from going to see it, I shall surely be on guard for the things mentioned in this Review. Thanks Mr. A


  5. I guess you haven’t seen Black Hawk Down. Scott is rather consistent in his moral vision–or lack thereof?


  6. Wow. When I saw the previews, I was like, “Well, the reason I would like to see it is the mideaval violence, but the reason I wouldn’t see it is “Orlando Bloom’s Face” and the adultery. Now I have another reason not to see it: A lame plot! Thanks Mr. A, I think you just saved me five bucks! :-)

    -Andrew C.


  7. I typed out this huge response, and it got lost in cyberspace. Sigh.

    Here’s the shorter, less erudite version. =)

    First, I wanted to say that I enjoyed reading your review, so thanks for writing.

    Secondly, I wanted to say that though I understand how the frustration of relativism and political correctness makes us cling to the black and white, absolute truth, and a concrete foundation of right and wrong — I don’t think that war is the place to look for it. The desires and motivations of men at war are so numerous, and the reasons for waging war are so convoluted, that I don’t think there IS a good guy and a bad guy in war. Some of the most compelling, touching war movies are ones where the many gray areas make heroes out of every day men who choose what they think is right. Fighting the wicked infidels is a great thing to feel — when you’re a kid playing plastic soldiers. But I don’t think most real life wars are that cut and dry. Salvation through saving Jerusalem? Oil in Iraq? Motivation in war is rarely pure. So while it WOULD make for a more compelling, Disney-esque story if there were a bad guy, it also wouldn’t make for a realistic story. A quote by Alexander Solzenhitsyn sums up a bit better what I am trying to say:
    “If only there were evil people somewhere, insidiously committing evil deeds and if it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy
    them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”


  8. In response to sarahw…

    I agree with your comments about the nature of war and the motivation behind entering combat, but I think the reviewer was justified in his comments about the movie.

    This movie is self-defeating, collapsing upon itself. This sort of movie, (the “Summer Blockbuster Action Film”,) for better or worse, relies upon a certain audience reaction to succeed. That reaction is an emotional rather than an intellectual one and is often created through the use of amazing special effects, the depiction of acts of courage, and inspiring speechmaking. While the first of these elements may still hold force in a movie without a clearly defined hero and villain, I can’t see how the final two would be able to do so.

    Unfortunately, this only leaves the film-goer with one emotional response: “Oh my, isn’t Orlando Bloom attractive as an elf… er… a pirate… um… the son of Pri… I mean, a blacksmith turned crusader”.


  9. “But I don’t think most real life wars are that cut and dry. Salvation through saving Jerusalem? Oil in Iraq? Motivation in war is rarely pure.”

    I would have to disagree that is a “realistic veiw” from a soldier’s point of veiw but agree with you from a leaders. Real soldiers would tell you they fight wars to win, not to save Jerusalem, Oil in Iraq or to free Europe from the Germans. Ultimately, soldiers fight wars to win and go home or in the case of Braveheart, to defend home. Kings and President’s worry about Jerusalem and Oil, and rightly so. If the film is about leadership, great, be a film about leadership, and yes, motivations are going to be complicated. If its a blacksmith turned front-line soldier who leads troops into battle, thats different and should be about that in which the situation becomes “us and them” due in large part to the rationalization and dehumanization needed to be able to kill another human being.


  10. Jim,

    Nope, didn’t see it. Guess I should have. I have not yet entered into the joys of Netflix, though.


    I think RCK is right on. Movies themselves seem intended in part to create emotional responses in their audiences–they are, after all, not documentaries.

    Additionally, while I agree that mixed motivations might prevail in wartime, I’m not sure that this entails the skepticism about “good” vs. “evil” that you seem to suggest is necessary for a “realistic story”. Some battles actually seem black-and-white. One thinks of WWII and the scores of movies it produced.


  11. “Ultimately, soldiers fight wars to win and go home or in the case of Braveheart, to defend home.”

    Win against who? Defend home against what?

    I’ve never been to war, nor am I in ROTC, but I would be surprised that a large amount of “rationalization or dehumanization” would need to occur for me to defeat forces I thought evil (i.e. forces threatening my home or security or committing obviously abhorrent wrongs). I fully admit to ignorance on this issue (i.e. I may still be a “kid playing plastic soldiers”), but I would be surprised if I would really need to rationalize or dehumanize in order to fight in WWII.


  12. Mr. A,
    Fabulous review. I am disappointed that the movie did not reach your expectations (or, rather, my expectations) but I think I’m still going to see it when it comes out on DVD. The storyline reminded me very much of Gladiator (which I thought was a good film if not bloody with one bad scene which I noted and skipped). No, I am NOT going to see it because of “The Incredible Orlando Bloom” but I would tentatively offer up the excuse of a difficult script to work with as reconciliation for his bad acting job in which he reportedly poses, rather than acts. ;) However, I agree with your view. Your post is very clear. Thanks! –Alyssa V.


  13. Thanks for the in-depth review Mr. A! Now I really have no desire to see the movie because from the previews it actually seemed like they were going to portray the Crusades in a true light (the only reason I wanted to see it), but oh well.
    Au revoir and hope you had a good Wednesday :}


  14. Matthew,

    Since the movie looks and sounds a lot like “Gladiator,” another Sir Ridley Scott epic (from the trailers), I was wondering your general thoughts about Gladiator, for reference purposes.


  15. This is good, Matt. Insightful review.


  16. Good review Mr A. Unfortuanetly, young audiences will continue to see the movie on the pretence that the battle scenes were “cool” and “exciting” much like gladiator and all its hype. Much in the same way people went to see Godzilla because their was destruction, not in order to ponder a 100 feet dinosaur and its morals.

    – Your faithful student


  17. […] While I am open to the suggestion that it is the genre that I am struggling with, the problems with the film seem to go deeper.  Much like Kingdom of Heaven, there is a deep ambiguity about right and wrong, which makes it difficult to root for one side or the other.  Russell Crowe’s character claims to be as debauched as they come, but is so in such sophisticated fashion that it feels as though the filmmaker is too sympathetic toward him.  This makes the central conflict between Bale and Crowe more complex, and consequently less powerful. […]


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