While I was in high school and pursuing every available chance to act in theatrical productions, I appeared in a passion play. It was produced by the First Assembly of God church, where I was a student at their Ka’ahumanu Hou Christian School. It was a great deal of fun and I still have Passion ’95 listed on my acting resume. I had to wear my dad’s bathrobe and some sandals to play one of the extras in the crowd who taunted Jesus during his crucifixion. Apparently, I gave a good performance, as one of my friends told me afterwards she was truly angered (or was it annoyed?) by the way I laughed and yelled out, “Yes! Crucify him!”
A moment I used to love watching from the audience was when Jesus multiplied the meager fish and bread in a basket for his believers. It was a slight of hand bit that took real David Copperfield-like flair: the basket was visibly empty and lowered, for just a second, into the crowd. It pops back up and was full of food for the Israelites. In the current biblical drama, Son of God, the moment is performed with so many cuts and close-ups, it’s obvious the basket of a few fish and chips was swapped with another. There’s no magic, no awe in the moment. The same could be said for the rest of this forgettable movie.
This is an extension of the over-hyped The Bible mini-series and I knew the movie was in trouble from the dubious opening scene. The apostle John narrates the film, saying, “He was there, during the flood…” and we’re suddenly flashing back to Noah. More to the point, we’re watching a scene from the mini-series, then another, then another. John’s memory is composed of scenes that could be introduced with “Previously on The Bible…”
Most films simply allow their story to unfold. This one seems to come with a schedule, as we check off each incident from the synoptic Gospels as they briefly occur, then move quickly onto the next one. It may be a filmed Passion play but there’s visibly little passion on display here from either side of the camera. The filmmaking is functional, at best; most of the work went into the costumes and the actors display a variety of European accents but no one owns their role. Playing Christ, Diogo Morgado is vibrantly handsome and smiles a lot but he’s just okay and never gets at the more complex, internal possibilities available.
The only recognizable actor in the cast is Roma Downey, who co-produced the film with her husband, the currently ubiquitous Mark Burnett. Downey plays Mary, Mother of Jesus, and is distractingly out of place. I don’t mean to be unkind, but Downey is visibly wearing make-up (as in Loreal, not the Hollywood movie set type) and has had her eyebrows waxed. She appears as out of place at the crucifixion as Kim Kardashian would.
The Last Supper has real impact, as we view the horror of the Apostles, who are clearly shell-shocked when their host announces he will be dead very soon. The crucifixion sequence is as strong as expected, though the limp wrap-up scenes diffuse all the accumulated dramatic tension.
Franco Zefferelli’s Jesus of Nazareth remains definitive for me, though I also prefer the devout, personal and still-controversial The Passion of the Christ from director Mel Gibson. A decade later, it’s still too violent but many have forgotten its tremendous filmmaking and performances.
Jim Caviezel made the love and suffering of Christ very real to me and even to those unmoved by the film itself. I’ll never forget that film, nor Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ. Those films conveyed what acts of love they were for all involved. With Son of God, the message it left me with was, Buy the DVD!
Score: ** (1-5 Star Score)