out of Five
Running time: 100
Impressively cast, authentic-looking production with superb performances and engaging direction by Catherine Hardwicke.
What's it all about?
The film opens with King Herod (Ciaran Hinds) ordering the Massacre of the Innocents in Bethlehem. It then flashes back several months and tells the story of Mary (Keisha Castle-Hughes), a young virgin in Nazareth who is visited by the angel Gabriel (Alexander Siddig) and told that she has been chosen by God to bear his son, Jesus.
After Gabriel visits Mary's husband-to-be Joseph (Oscar Isaacs) and confirms her story, the two of them travel to Bethlehem to complete Herod's census, undertaking the dangerous journey despite the fact that Mary is nine months pregnant.
Catherine Hardwicke (Lords of Dogtown, Thirteen) may seem like an unusual choice for a Biblical epic, but she proves an inspired choice, choosing to focus on the authenticity of the story, primarily through Mary. The desire for authenticity (as opposed to previous po-faced Biblical pictures) extends to the impressive casting (there are no heavily made-up Hollywood stars here) as well as to the locations and the look of the film.
Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider) is superb as Mary, brilliantly capturing her tinge of regret as she moves, prematurely, from childhood to adulthood and then finding reserves of enormous strength as she confronts her destiny. The supporting cast are excellent but Oscar Isaac is particularly good as Joseph and it's to the film's credit that it addresses the issue of how he feels when Mary first announces that she's pregnant.
The only real problem with the film is that the ending feels rushed, losing the dramatic potential of Mary and Joseph's escape from the massacre.
The story may be 2006 years old but this is an engaging drama with strong performances, impressive direction and an admirable commitment to authenticity. As an amusing trivial note: 16 year old Keisha fell pregnant after filming, which must have lead to a few interesting decisions in the publicity department.
The Nativity Story (PG)