The film opens in France where three men are burying a woman. They are approached by Godfrey (Liam Neeson) and his fellow Knights who are looking for Balian (Orlando Bloom). The priest (Michael Sheen) directs Godfrey to where Balian is. When they leave, the priest takes the woman's crucifix that was tied around her neck and order the grave diggers to cut off her head, since she committed suicide. They do indeed decapitate the corpse. We learn that the woman is Balian's wife, and she killed herself due to the death of their son. Godfrey finds Balian, a blacksmith, at work. He tells him that he is sorry for the loss of his wife and son, and he tells him that he too has loss. Godfrey reveals that he is Balian's father and that he was hoping that Balian would join him and his Knights in the Crusade. Balian doesn't say a word, so Godfrey leaves but tells him where he will be in case he should change his mind.
That night, the priest who took the crucifix from Balian's dead wife confronts him while Balian is working on a sword. The priest urges Balian to leave France and join the Crusades. He says that no one in the town wants Balian there anymore. When Balian refuses, the priest says "what will your wife do in hell without a head?". Balian then notices that the priest is wearing the crucifix that he stole, and when he recognizes it he impales the priest with the red hot sword that he was making. The priest falls into the fireplace and is set ablaze. He thrashes about and ends up setting fire to Balian's hut. Balian grabs the crucifix from the priest's neck and it burns his hand. He leaves and catches up with his father in the snowy forest outside of town. Balian is interested in going to Jerusalem with Godfrey in hopes of having his sins, along with his dead wife's sins, to be forgiven.
Godfrey throws Balian a sword and orders him to pick it up so he can teach him to fight properly. The Hospitaler (David Thewlis) says that since Balian is wounded, he should rest. Godfrey says that he himself fought for two days with an arrow in his testicles, and he once again orders Balian to pick up the sword. He strikes at his son and teaches him some moves with the sword. Odo (Jouko Ahola) also shows Balian a thing or two about swordplay. Some men show up and demand that Balian returns to the town so that he may be punished for his murder. Godfrey refuses to give up his son, and sends the men off. After they leave, there is still some tension in the air. All of a sudden arrows are sent into a couple of Godfrey's Knights. The authorities return and engage in a bloody attack on Godfrey and his men. Odo is shot in the throat, but continues to fight and kill many men before he is shot a couple of times in the chest and finally dies. Godfrey is in his side below the armpit and continues to fight. A good number of his Knights die, but they win the fight and kill all the men who sought out Balian. The Hospitaler tends to Godfrey's wound and says that the arrow broke off in his side, so one of two things will happen: he will either get better and receive a scar from his wound, or the arrow will infect his blood and he will catch a fever before he dies. They all leave to the sea ports outside of the Red Sea.
While there, Guy de Lusignan (Marton Csokas) shows up and is introduced to Balian. It's apparent that Guy is not in good hands with Godfrey, as there is a lot of tension between the two. Also, Guy does not like the presence of Balian. Later at night, a Knight calls for Balian to come at once. Godfrey is dying and requested the presence of his son. At a certain point before entering Godfrey's bedroom, the Knight says that he can go no further and tells Balian to go inside. In the room is the Hospitaler, Godfrey, and some other Knights. Godfrey orders Balian to kneel (he does) and he takes out his sword. He knights Balian and part of his oath is to safeguard the helpless and do no wrong. He then slaps him in the face and tells him that was so he won't forget his oath. Balian rises a Knight and Godfrey tells him to go to Jerusalem, which is a "kingdom of heaven", "a kingdom of conscience". Balian will be loyal to the king and his fate will be decided there. Godfrey dies.
The next day the Hospitaler tells Balian to get on a ship for Jerusalem. If God does not want him there, he will die. The Hospitaler tells him that he will meet up with him there and departs to go somewhere else. While eating with another Knight, Balian notices some Muslims praying on the beach. The Knight tells him that they are allowed to pray there for a price. Guy comes by and insults Balian. The Knights and Balian board a ship for Jerusalem, and a fierce storm occurs while they are out at sea. The boat capsizes and Balian wakes up on the beach in the shipwreck. He is the only survivor, and everyone else is dead. He drinks some water from one of the dead men and finds that only one horse is still alive. He gets the horse out of its cage, but it runs off. Balian walks through the desert, not knowing if he is even going in the right direction of Jerusalem. He finds water and he finds the survivor horse drinking from it. He ties up the horse so that can't run away again, and Balian is spotted by two Muslims. One of them approaches Balian and asks who's horse that is. Balian says that it is his, but the man says that it is his master's (the other guy he's with). Balian refuses to give up the horse, so the other man (who's on a horse) comes and draws his sword. Balian draws out his father's sword and the two men begin to fight. The servant urges his master to stop, but he won't listen. It ends with Balian slicing the master's throat, killing him. He pins down the servant, but does not kill him. The servant introduces himself as Jerusalem (Jon Finch). He tells Balian that he killed a great warrior, and Balian orders Jerusalem to guide him to the city.
They arrive at Jerusalem, which is always a bit cloudy. The man Jerusalem offers to be Balian's servant, but Balian refuses his service and allows him to leave. Jerusalem tells him that his acts will be known to his enemies even before he meets them. He leaves. Balian walks up to the top of a hill and buries his dead wife's crucifix in the ground underneath some rocks. He walks around the streets and notices that some men are following him (they were eyeing his sword). Balian walks to a fountain and pulls out his sword, then demands why the men are following him. One of them says that the sword belonged to Godfrey, of whom he was good friends with. Balian says that he knew Godfrey. The man says that Godfrey was about his same height, and Balian agrees. The man says that Godfrey had green eyes, but Balian recognizes the trick and says that Godfrey had blue eyes. The man is a Knight and takes Balian to go see Tiberias (Jeremy Irons), the head of the Knights in Jerusalem.
Tiberias says that he was Godfrey's friend, and so he shall be Balian's friend. He gets Balian situated with a place to stay and Balian rests/takes a bath. The next day Sibylla (Eva Green) comes to the place where Balian is staying, and Balian tends to her horse. She asks for water and he gives it to her. She says that she was sent by Tiberias to find Balian and tell him to come and dine with him. The Hospitaler shows up and is glad that Balian is still alive. Balian goes to have dinner with Tiberias, and Sibylla is also there. Guy shows up and it is revealed that Sibylla is Guy's wife. Guy does not like Balian eating at the table with him and takes off rudely. Tiberias says that he will take Balian to meet the king, but Sibylla volunteers to do it herself.
On the way to the king, Sibylla tells Balian that she has two faces: one for public, and one for private. With Balian, Sibylla can be herself. They are obviously attracted to each other. She directs Balian to a doorway where the king awaits inside. Balian goes inside and is introduced to King Baldwin IV (Edward Norton). The King is dying from leprosy, and wears a silver mask and gloves to hide his hideous body. He tells Balian that Jerusalem is open to all religions, and that he wants to keep it that way. He also tells him that he knew his father, and that he was a good man. The King gives Balian a piece of land and gives him the duty of protecting it and its people.
Balian lives on the land that he is ordered to protect along with other Knights and finds that his people don't have water. He works hard in digging into the sand to find water, and one day one of the workers finds mud. Upon further digging, they filter out water. Everyone is happy. Then Sibylla shows up and says that she is on her way to some place, and that she requests to be Balian's guest for her duration in his land. Balian agrees and makes her comfortable. Sibylla watches Balian outside through a window play with the kids and work hard. Balian dines with Sibylla and she tells him that his land is like a second Jerusalem. Late at night, Sibylla comes to Balian's room and asks him if he knows why she is there. He says that the place she said she was going is nowhere near his land, and that she came there on purpose. She blows out the candle she was holding and they have sex.
Meanwhile, Guy and the Christian Templars want the King to go to war with Saladin (Ghassan Massoud), who is determined to reclaim Jerusalem for the Muslims. The King refuses, instead opting for some kind of peace with Saladin. This gets Tiberias happy, but Guy is mad. He can't wait for the King to die and for Sibylla to become queen. This will allow Guy to be king, and he will be able to go to war with Saladin, an honorable man. Guy and his friend Reynald (Brendan Gleeson) ride off with the Christian Templars and find a bunch of innocent weapon-less Muslims in the desert. Guy and Reynald, who want a war, slaughter the Muslims. Saladin, hearing of this, gathers his troops and rides for Jerusalem. The Christian Templars might have their war after all.
The next morning the King learns of Saladin and his massive 200,000 army coming for Jerusalem. He gives in to the demands of the Templars and orders them to go off and face Saladin in battle. The King, however, says that he will be there himself at the head of the army. Tiberias, fearing for the King's safety, tells the King that he will surely die if he rides into combat. The King knows, but tells Tiberias to get Balian. As Sibylla is preparing to leave Balian's land, they all learn of the enemy force closing in on Jerusalem. Balian orders his people to leave and sends them (along with Sibylla) into the city. Balian can see the army in the distance, and he sees that some of his people won't make it in time to reach the safety of the city. Balian and his Knights stay in front of the city and the people. He is told to join the Jerusalem army and the Templars, who are on their way, but Balian knows that he leaves his people will die so he stays. Balian and his men charge against Saladin's army to guard the helpless, and it's clear that they are vastly outnumbered. Sibylla watches from a safe distance Balian riding off into combat, and is beset by the bravery of her lover.
Balian and his men ride into the center of Saladin's army, and they are enclosed by the enemies. They fight bravely, and it quickly turns into a bloody affair. Balian is knocked off his horse and proceeds to kill the invading soldiers. He is eventually knocked out and dragged on the sand. He sees that his surviving men are also held captive, and he is brought to a man who he recognizes....it's Jerusalem, the man he didn't kill when he first arrived. Jerusalem tells Balian that the man he killed wasn't his master, but HIS servant. He then again tells Balian that his actions will be known to his enemies before he meets them, and allows Balian along with his remaining men to go back to the city alive. They retreat and meet up with the Templars and the King. Saladin rides out alone in front of his army, and the King does the same. The King doesn't want to fight and convinces Saladin to maintain the peace. Saladin agrees and leaves with his army.
The King goes back inside Jerusalem with his army and walks up to Reynald, who is happy that the war is going to happen. The King orders Reynald to fall to his knees, and he does. He then removes one of his gloves and holds out his bloody deformed hand. He orders Reynald to give his hand the royal kiss, and after hesitating Reynald does. The King then slaps Reynald multiple amount of times with his hand until he runs out of breath and collapses. His servant rush out and put the King onto a stretcher. Tiberias arrests Reynald and promises him that he will die for his traitorous acts that he has performed.
The King is not well, and is mostly bed-ridden. He calls in Balian to have a talk with him. The King and Tiberias recognize that Balian loves the King's sister Sibylla, and the King asks Balian if he would marry her if Guy would no longer be her husband. Tiberias says that they would kill Reynald and Guy for being traitors, and if Balian would marry Sibylla he would be the next king and would command the Jerusalem army. Balian holds true to his oath (do no wrong) and refuses to the plan. Tiberias says that Guy hates Balian and would try to kill him, but Balian still refuses. Later that night he sees Sibylla, and she is upset that he wouldn't allow Guy and Reynald to be killed. "Why won't you do a little evil for the greater good?" she says. Balian walks off.
Guy visits Reynald in jail and they recognize that Balian is a worthy Knight and that he is a threat to Guy's becoming the next king. Reynald tells Guy that Balian needs to die. The King dies from his leprosy, and asks his tearful sister to remember him as he was before his disease. Sibylla removes his silver mask and is taken aback by his hideous face. She pulls herself together and the city mourns the loss of the great King. Very soon after, Sibylla is crowned Queen and Guy is crowned King. He can now do as he pleases. Tiberias has no choice but to do as the King requests. Guy releases and pardons Reynald from jail. Reynald gets together a small group of Templars to go kill Balian. A messenger from Saladin is sent to Guy, asking that he still holds the peace that he had with the previous king. Guy slits the messenger's throat and sends him back to Saladin.
Reynald and some Templars attack more innocent Muslims and decapitate them. Reynald finds Saladin's sister in the field and rips off the cloth that hid her face (it's not exactly clear/known what he does to her afterwards). Balian, who was sleeping underneath a tree on his land, wakes up to find a Templar waiting for him. A couple of other Templars come out of hiding and they try to kill him. Balian, who was swordless, kills a Templar and takes his sword, killing the others. The last one is wearing a metal helmet and attacks Balian, but he stabs him through his helmet and head. Balian heads off to the city.
Guy, Reynald, and the Templars plan to move away from the city and attack Saladin's army. Tiberias thinks of it as foolish, seeing how they will leave Jerusalem defenseless. The Templars say that God wants the war, and God will protect them in combat. Balian catches up with Guy and everyone at this meeting and agrees with Tiberias. If the army moves across the desert to meet with Saladin's troops, they will all be slaughtered. Guy arrogantly doesn't listen to the wise advice. Tiberias says that his Knights won't help him then, and Balian's people won't either. They stay while Guy and the Templars head off into the desert. Balian catches the Hospitaler and tells him that he will certainly die if he goes with the army. The Hospitaler already knows this, but his people are moving with the army so he has to go too. He promises to tell Godfrey how well Balian has become and heads off with the army to certain death.
Guy, Reynald, and the Templars wander through the desert. Some of the troops fall over dead and exhausted from the heat. Saladin's army massacres the Templars and holds Guy along with Reynald as prisoners. Saladin fills up a cup with ice and gives it to Guy to drink, since he's the king now. Guy refuses it and gives it to Reynald to drink. Saladin is angry and insulted that Guy didn't drink the water, and Reynald laughs about it. Saladin draws his sword and slits his throat, letting Reynald die in a pool of his own blood. Saladin then asks Guy if he didn't learn anything from the previous wise king, of which it's clear Guy did not.
Tiberias, Balian, and other Knights ride off to catch up with the Templar army but find them all dead, with some of their severed heads placed on stakes. Among the pile of heads that Balian looks through is the head of the Hospitaler. Tiberias says that Jerusalem is doomed and that he is going to flee the country. He asks if Balian will join him, but he says no. Tiberias says that Balian indeed is his father's son and rides off alone. Balian is now in charge of the defenses of Jerusalem. Balian talks to Sibylla, who feels that she is responsible for everything that's going on and she is upset that Balian won't be with her. Balian says that he will be with her if she should give up her thrown and be a normal woman.
Balian sends out soldiers to place stones that are painted white at certain points before the castle (at specific feet). A bishop tells Balian that they all should flee and try to save themselves. He tells him that he doesn't have enough Knights. Balian thus asks a servant boy to kneel (it's actually one of the bishop's servants). He then asks every able bodied man to kneel too. He then tells them the oath of a Knight and slaps the servant boy in the face, saying that was so that he will remember the oath. The men arise Knights, but the bishop is still not amused. He asks Balian if making a man a Knight will make him a better fighter. Balian looks into the faces of the now proud men around him and says "yes". Balian then makes a speech to the people of Jerusalem, telling them that they are not protecting the walls of Jerusalem, but the people inside it. Sibylla sees all of this from her palace above. The women and children are sent to the backside of the city because Balian knows that Saladin will attack from the front. Every man picks up a weapon and waits for Saladin's 200,000 man army to come.
That night, Saladin's troops arrive and catapult balls/pots on fire toward the city. Buildings go up in flames and some of Balian's men are set on fire and die. Saladin continues to fire and his men wonder why Balian won't fire back. Saladin says that he waiting for him to get closer. He recognizes that Balian is not a fool like Guy. Saladin continues to fire all night until morning comes. He puts Guy on a donkey backwards and puts on dunce hat on him, sending the half-naked Guy away (we never see him again). Saladin fires some more onto Jerusalem, and sends towers full of people toward the city. His troops push the towers closer and closer to the city's wall. Balian, using the colored stones placed before, uses them as a marker and orders his men to catapult and fire arrows. Saladin's army is hit with deadly precision. The fight becomes an intense, bloody affair. It goes on for days, and the towers are finally pushed to the wall. The tower's gate crashes into the wall and Saladin's men run out of it. One tower is completely slaughtered when Balian's men fire arrows into the storming soldiers. Saladin's other men are getting to work on ramming Jerusalem's massive gate. Arrows are flying everywhere and both sides of the conflict are killed. Balian and his men pour gallons of oil over the side of the wall onto Saladin's men and set fire to it (and his men). Balian sees that the Muslims have raised their flags on top of the wall, so he walks over to them and proceeds to hack away at their legs and their backs. While doing so, one of the enemy soldiers slices the outside part of Balian's hand, but Balian kills him. He then throws off the Muslim flags over the wall and raises Jerusalem's flag again.
Sibylla, overcome with guilt over the whole situation, cuts off her hair and tends to the wounded men defending her city. That night she sees the wounded Balian, but someone else tends to him. No one recognizes Sibylla. Balian's wound runs from his wrist area to the middle of his hand. Saladin plans on attacking a certain point of the wall, because once it's broken into it will grant his army complete access to Jerusalem. Balian figures out Saladin's plan and gathers his remaining men to that section of the wall. It is here that they will make their final stand. The next day Saladin's men wait outside while the wall is being destroyed. Inside, Balian's men wait for the incoming enemy. Balian reminds them that Jerusalem is just stones, and that they protect the people living inside the stones. The wall is destroyed. Saladin's men don't wait for the smoke and dust to clear; they charge inside. They are greeted by Balian and his Knights. A brutal close-encounter fight erupts and both sides are gruesomely killed. Some of Saladin's men jump isolated Knights and savagely kill them. Balian's face is sliced by someone. Eventually Balian and his people drive the invading force back outside the huge hole in the wall and are victorious.
Saladin's men set up a tent outside and they want Balian to come out to negotiate. Balian walks past the dead men and comes to the tent. Saladin himself comes to the tent and they both note that they are honorable fighters. Balian tells Saladin that if he continues to attack Jerusalem, he will kill a vast majority of his army and Saladin will never be able to raise another army. Balian also promises to burn Jerusalem to the ground before he dies, since it's clear that Saladin cares for the buildings of Jerusalem (he cares for the physical aspect). Saladin and Balian come to an agreement: Balian will give up Jerusalem, and all his people will be guided to safe Christian country. No one else will die. Balian walks back to his men and tells them of this arrangement, and they all cheer.
Balian and the people of Jerusalem leave while Saladin and his people move in. Saladin picks up a golden cross that fell and places it back on a table. While riding on his horse, he notices Sibylla among the long line of people leaving Jerusalem. He gets off his horse and walks besides Sibylla. He asks why she cut her hair, and she says that she is now a normal woman. They hold hands.
Some time later in France, we see Balian once again working as a blacksmith in his old hut (which still has some burnt edges). He has scars on his face and on his hand from his experience in Jerusalem. Some Crusaders ride up to him and are seeking out the great Balian that they heard of. King Richard Coeur de Lion (Ian Glen) of England says that he is seeking to reclaim Jerusalem and was hoping that Balian would help him and his army. Balian says that he is just a blacksmith, and so the Crusaders ride off. Balian lives in peace with Sibylla.
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