Thursday, May 12, 2005

Quickies: Crash and Kingdom of Heaven

I haven't really had the time/patience to write a full review of either of the movies I saw this weekend. It was a good weekend, though. I had the chance to see both Crash and Kingdom of Heaven.

Crash is a movie about race and racism and the perceptions of race distinctions. There is a large, talented cast and multiple storylines that weave together to make the movie. If you are familiar at all with the films of Robert Altman (Short Cuts, Gosford Park, Cookie's Fortune) then you'll have an idea about the structure of the movie. It is co-written and directed by the Academy Award winning screenwriter of Million Dollar Baby, Paul Haggis.

Taking place over the course of a long day, Haggis brings together a variety of characters in Los Angeles. There is a white racist cop and his disapproving rookie partner (Matt Dillon and Ryan Phillipe). There are two young, thoughtful black men (Ludacris and Larenz Tate). There is a latino locksmith who is trying to raise a family (Michael Pena, I think). Sandra Bullock plays the wife of Brendan Fraser (the district attorney), and she is angry and fearful of those of other races. The fear makes partial sense as those two thoughtful young black men also carjacked her and her husband, but this leads her to believe that the locksmith is a gang banger because he has a shaved head and tattoos. There are other characters of other races and backgrounds and the movie deals with the misunderstandings and racial prejudices that arise. There is no simple answer and there is no true villain. Even characters like Matt Dillon's racist cop gets a touch of humanity as he cares for his ailing father and also in an act of heroism. The initially sympathetic characters reveal their own prejudices. Everybody is worse than they appear, but everybody is also better than they appear. It's a very intersting, well made film and is simply excellent.

Kingdom of Heaven is completely different. This is a historical epic from the director of Gladiator, Ridley Scott. Nobody does a historical epic like Scott. He should have directed Troy, Alexander, and King Arthur. Here we have Balion (Orlando Bloom), a blacksmith who meets his Crusader father (Liam Neeson) for the first time and goes to Jerusalem with him. His father dies, but Balion finds himself a Lord, a Knight, romancing a princess, and defending the city. Balion is a Christian Knight and Jerusalem will soon find itself under seige from the Muslim army of Saladin (Ghassan Massoud).

The interesting thing here, and it is to Ridley Scott's credit, is that the Muslims are not the bad guys. Neither are the Christians. Holding the city and trying to take the city is more about politics than about religion. Those who come off the worst in this movie are the fanatics on both sides. Some of the Christian soldiers cry out "God wills it!" while arguing that they should wipe out the Muslims. The same is argued on the Muslim side about the Christians. It is interesting how both sides are clearly fighting for God and that this Holy War is approved by God. I doubt it, and so do the moderates on either side.

Scott takes his time, but the battle sequences are quite good and a little frantic with the camera movement. If you are a fan of the genre, this film should satisfy, but it is a little slow and dry at times. Orlando Bloom, while pretty good here, isn't the compelling charismatic lead that we saw in Russell Crowe's Maximus. He is serviceable with excellent supporting characters, but I'm not sure if men would follow Balion. But Bloom surpasses my expectations after seeing him in Troy.

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