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Video Review: The Passion of the Christ (2004)

September 12, 2011
  • Dir. Mel Gibson
  • Released by 20th Century Fox
  • Written by Benedict Fitzgerald, Mel Gibson, and William Fulco
  • Rating **
Video Review:
Yeshua of Nazareth (aka Jesus Christ) gained fame as a controversial Jewish prophet, following the success of his cousin, John the Baptist. His pacifistic, apocalyptic philosophy managed to upset the Sanhedrin establishment without resorting to the extremism of the Zealots. His martyrdom triggered the formation of a sect of Judaism that eventually formed an entirely new religion, Christianity. Oh, and He is also the Son of God…didn’t see that one coming.
Mel Gibson gained fame as an Australian action flick hero, starring in George Miller’s Mad Max trilogy. His popularity spread once he took the role of Martin Riggs in the Lethal Weapon series, and he proved himself capable of spreading into dramatic roles as well. His decision to move into direction paid off with The Man Without a Face and Braveheart, which were both well-received. Oh, and he is also a Traditionalist Catholic…see where this is going?
James Caviezel plays the former under the direction of the latter, and the long-standing Hollywood tradition of casting actors of European descent to play Semitic characters continues. At least he gets to speak Aramaic in the movie, as do his disciples and his Jewish enemies. The Romans, alternatively, speak Latin. This little touch of accuracy indicates how much better this film could have been if it had taken a less sensationalized approach to its subject.
Filmed in Italy (with largely European-born actors), this film carries a distinct Roman Catholic bias, both in dogma/exegesis and in theatricality. Much like Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, it indulges in stylized filmmaking, touches of metaphor, and a melodramatic score (provided here by John Debney). Unlike Scorsese’s film, however, this movie proports to be a straight adaptation of the Gospels with references to extracanonical tradition.
Therein lies my greatest quibble with the film. The only reasonable justification for the level of violence depicted in the film is an attempt at realism, a serious depiction of the suffering that Jesus actually experienced during the trial and execution. However, the film’s lush, epic treatment of the material feels oh-so-artificial, and thus the violence comes off as overstated and manipulative rather than moving. Gibson does not trust the story to work on its own merits.
The acting is suitable enough, especially considering that the performers are speaking essentially dead languages. Caviezel shows as much range as he can in a role that sadly has him screaming in pain for most of the runtime. Hristo Shopov is not as memorable in the role of Pontius Pilate as Telly Savalas in The Greatest Story Ever Told, Rod Steiger in Jesus of Nazareth, or David Bowie in The Last Temptation of Christ, but he’s certainly still solid.
With the exception of the hokey The Greatest Story Ever Told (which is as sterile in its reverence as The Passion is eccentric in its own), any of the other Jesus movies listed above provide superior alternatives to this one. With its narrow focus on the last hours of Christ’s life, Gibson’s film lacks much of the thought provocation offered by other versions and relies almost solely on emotional impact. As the title indicates, it is little more than a study of suffering.

From → Film Criticism

  1. A special Happy Birthday to my favorite person!

  2. A special Happy Birthday to my favorite person!

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