Derailed doesn't waste any time. After a scene of spousal bickering between Deanna and Charles Schine (Melissa George and Clive Owen) Charles is on the commuter train flirting with stunning--and also married--business exec Lucinda (Jennifer Aniston). It would make sense the two best-looking people on a crowded train would find one another. Before long they're in a cheap motel room trysting away. But they soon find themselves in much more trouble than they bargained for. A thug (Vincent Cassel) busts into the room to rob them and sums up what they are doing there pretty quickly. He does a few extra nasty things namely to Lucinda and then leaves. But that isn’t the last we hear of him. Soon Charles is being blackmailed by the guy who threatens to tattle--or worse--if he doesn't get what he wants thus planting the seeds that will bloom into cookie-cutter twists. It's been far too long since Owen smiled in one of his movies. He again broods his way through Derailed eschewing and suppressing any dramatic fireworks letting it all just simmer below the surface. I’m just saying maybe it’s time for a comedy. For Aniston she’s proven she can do dramatic with her stellar turn in the indie The Good Girl. But her foray into the dark world of adulterous affairs is at best iffy here. Her Friends perkiness still plagues her--and to top it off her screen time in Derailed is very limited. The lone bright spot is French actor Cassel best known for playing cat and mouse games with George Clooney in Ocean's Twelve. His varied performance greatly overshadows his A-list co-stars. Derailed is Swedish director Mikael Hafstrom first English-language film (his Evil was nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar in 2004) but chances are it won’t be his last. His careful slow-burn technique with Derailed should generate plenty of future offers especially since he understands how to sell a film which may or may not make him proud. It seems at times as though he wanted to go for a more urban-noir Euro-caper feel but was perhaps overruled by the Weinstein brothers (former heads of Miramax) who chose a more commercialized Derailed to launch their new production company. In any event despite a weak script full of gaping holes in logic the movie moves smoothly.
The Crusades were a series of religious wars in which the Christians tried to reclaim Jerusalem from the Muslims who had conquered the Middle East in the 7th century. With the battle cry of "God wills it! " thousands of Europeans answered the call and were able to retake the fabled Holy City in the 11th century. Kingdom of Heaven begins in 1186 between the Second and Third Crusades. A fragile peace prevails mostly through the efforts of Jerusalem's enlightened Christian king Baldwin IV (Edward Norton) and the military restraint of the legendary Muslim leader Saladin (Ghassan Massoud). But it's difficult to maintain the peace. There are extremists within the Christian brigades--known as the Knights Templar--who want to wipe every Muslim off the face of the Earth. On top of that King Baldwin's health is failing. Once he's gone war is sure to follow. If ever there was a need for a hero this is the time. Enter the young French blacksmith Balian (Orlando Bloom) who is in deep despair over the loss of his family. He joins the Crusades after the father he never knew Godfrey (Liam Neeson) comes back from Jerusalem and convinces him it's a quest worth fighting for. As Godfrey passes his sword to his son he also passes on that sacred knightly oath: to protect the helpless safeguard the peace and work toward harmony between religions and cultures so that a kingdom of heaven can flourish on earth. No pressure or anything though.
Orlando Bloom carries his first major motion picture very well easily handling the chores of being such a gallant conscientious and morally upstanding knight. As Balian the Troy costar plays the gamut. He broods over his lost wife and child has father-son epiphanies upholds his knightly duties on a regular basis falls in love with a beautiful but troubled princess and finally bravely defends the Holy City from the encroaching Muslim army thus becoming a legend. Not bad for a day's work eh? There are even times especially toward the end when Balian is standing before the denizens of Jerusalem urging them to fight when you swear you can see a little of Bloom's The Lord of the Rings alter-elf Legolas creep in. The supporting cast also does an adequate job painting a picture of some trying times. Chief among them: Jeremy Irons as King Baldwin's right-hand man Tiberias; Marton Csokas (The Bourne Supremacy) as the evil leader of the Knights Templar; Massoud as the great warrior Saladin; and lovely Eva Green (The Dreamers) as Princess Sibylla King Baldwin's sister who captures our hero's heart but makes some bad choices with dire consequences.
Even if these sword-and-armor epics are all blending together you've got to give props to the directors who make them. These films are massive undertakings and Kingdom of
Heaven with the expert Ridley Scott at the helm is no exception. The Oscar-winning director of course has had his fair share of recreating history first with the classic Gladiator and then with the contemporary Black Hawk Down. But in recreating the Crusades Scott faces his toughest challenge to date and takes on the responsibility very seriously. He is painstakingly meticulous with details even as he is building a 12th-century Jerusalem or corralling 2 000 heavily costumed extras for the colossal climactic battle sequences. And it is always a good thing when a historical film can teach you something you may not have known like what the heck the Crusades were really all about. No Kingdom's biggest obstacle is timing. While it certainly has more substance than Alexander it is not nearly as intense and stirring as The Lord of the Rings trilogy or the granddaddy of them all Braveheart. Too many of its ilk has come before and the concept has unfortunately worn thin.