The Passion of the Christ (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner10/03/2004

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 126 mins

Controversial Biblical drama, directed by Mel Gibson and focusing on the last 12 hours in the life of Jesus Christ (Jim Caveziel).

Well-acted, impressively made film that plays like the uncut, two hour long season finale of Jesus of Nazareth, only with lashings of extra gore. Not for the weak of stomach.

In the beginning there was The Man Without A Face and from such lowly directorial beginnings, Mel Gibson went on to make Braveheart. And so it came to pass that Oscars were won for direction and ambitions were formed. And, lo, verily did Mel Gibson unleash his long-cherished Biblical epic upon us and we saw that it was extremely gory, but with strong performances.

Powerful And Laughable

The Passion of the Christ is an unusual film in many ways. It is both powerful and laughable, suffused with a sense of its own importance and yet genuinely passionate in delivering its message. At the same time, there are moments in the film that are extremely moving, alongside moments that are flat-out ridiculous.

And then there’s the odd decision to have the entire film composed of Latin, Aramaic and Hebrew, with subtitles – although this does get round the problem faced by Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ, in which a character is clearly heard to say, “Yo, Lazarus! How’s it goin’?”

The story follows the last 12 hours in the life of Jesus Christ (Jim Caveziel), starting with his betrayal by Judas at Gethsemane. Inside the city walls of Jerusalem, he is confronted with accusations of blasphemy by the Pharisees and condemned to death. Brought before Pontius Pilate (Hristo Naumov Shopov), he is first flagellated (in the controversial, extremely nasty, twenty minute flogging scene) and then ordered to carry a cross to Golgotha for his crucifixion. Needless to say, it doesn’t end happily…

Perfect Casting But Goes Too Far

At times, the film plays like the extended season finale to Franco Zeffirelli’s 1977 TV series Jesus of Nazareth, complete with flashbacks to season highlights (the Sermon on the Mount, the rescue of Mary Magdalene, the bit with the loaves, a lovely scene that deals with his early days as a carpenter), only with lashings of extra gore.

Gibson is clearly intent on showing us the full horrors of Christ’s ordeal, although, arguably he goes too far – by the end of the flogging scene, you’re willing it to stop, but out of boredom as much as anything else.

The casting, at least, is perfect – Jim Caveziel was born to play Christ, his haunted features and soulful eyes beautifully complement his performance. Monica Bellucci is also splendidly cast as Mary Magdalene, even if a) she’s not really given much to do except wail a lot and b) she looks entirely too gorgeous, even in sack-cloth. Maia Morgenstern is also good as Mary, although she looks a little too young to be playing Jesus’ mother. Sadly, although Shopov is excellent, the rest of the Romans are reduced to snickering, homicidally violent thugs, which rather cheapens the torture scenes.

The main accusation against the film is that it is apparently anti-Semitic, but that accusation seems unfounded, despite one of the Jewish characters, Caiphas (Mattias Sbragia) pushing heavily for Christ’s crucifixion. Having said that, after extensive previews, Gibson apparently removed a line in which a character says, “His blood will be on our hands and that of our sons”.

At any rate, there is nothing as offensive as Gibson’s anti-English portrayals in both Braveheart and The Patriot, although it is interesting that he chose to cast Satan as a woman (Rosalinda Celentano) and yet so far, no-one has taken offence at that.

Beautifully Shot

The film is beautifully shot by cinematographer Caleb Deschanel (father of Zooey) and the set design is terrific. There are some impressive moments in the film, particularly the mini-horror movie that follows Judas around after his betrayal – involving shrieking spirits and Devil Children with adult faces.

However, the spirit of The Life Of Brian is never too far away either, meaning that some scenes are unintentionally laughable – you’ll almost certainly find yourself muttering “He’s not the Messiah – he’s a very naughty boy!” at one point, not to mention chuckling during the ‘fweeing’ of ‘Bawwabas’. Finally, some scenes just beggar belief on their own, in particular, Caveziel’s Terminator-style naked resurrection, complete with a surgically clean hole through his hand and a soundtrack that sounds almost identical to the Terminator theme.

In short, The Passion of the Christ is well-made and impressively acted but it isn’t exactly entertaining and is certainly not for the faint of stomach, as there’s an awful lot of blood and gore on display (you can see ribs at one point, and it’s also best to hide your eyes as soon as the crow appears). It’s worth seeing, however, as it’s sure to be one of the most talked-about films of the year; in addition, there’s no denying Gibson’s passion in bringing his vision to the screen, no matter how dodgy his religious beliefs.

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Content updated: 17/10/2017 19:38

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