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Saturday, March 1, 2014

"Son of God" 2014 Sloppy, Dull, Not Recommended.

"Son of God" is the kind of movie I'd go out of my way to warn people NOT to see. It lacks narrative coherence, drive, and a point of view. It is visually unappealing. I was with a friend so I could not walk out of this movie; had I attended alone, I think I would have. I found it physically painful to sit through this entire film. I nodded off more than once.

The film took forever to get started, going through Adam, Noah, Abraham and Moses, and it took forever to end. Most lives of Christ select one gospel's passion narrative to recreate. For example, in the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks only three brief sentences. This film had Jesus speaking endlessly from the cross and were this not so painful it would have been funny. The movie stumbles onward after Jesus' Resurrection and his Ascension into Heaven. St John mopes on an island waiting for death and has a vision of Jesus there. That this limping, pointless coda was tacked on after the obvious climaxes of the Resurrection and the Ascension is evidence of the filmmakers' ineptitude.

The film's best feature is Diogo Morgado as Jesus. He is charismatic and appropriately mysterious. You get the sense that there is more there than meets the eye. The rest of the cast is also fine. Adrian Schiller is especially good as Caiaphas the High Priest, depicted as Jesus' nemesis.

For me the biggest problem with the film was the lack of narrative drive. I had no sense that I was watching a coherent story with a beginning, middle, and end. There is no tension, no coherence, from one scene to the next. A viewer has to come to this movie with some background on Jesus' life. Anyone without that background would be watching an incoherent muddle.

There is no point of view. Who is telling this story? Why? Again, point of view is random and fluctuating and this adds to the film's lack of a spinal column.

The film appears to have been shot with hand-held cameras. There is little variation. The constant close-ups with shaky cameras get very, very monotonous. "Son of God" is 138 minutes long. Watching randomly tossed together scenes, almost all shot with handheld cameras, was a soporific experience.

"Son of God" is ugly and inauthentic. Jesus was a Jew and he lived his entire life in a Jewish country. Jesus and his followers should have been played by Jews or people who look Jewish. The actors playing Jesus, Peter, John, Mary the mother of Jesus, are not Jewish and don't look Jewish. For the most part the actors look like models in a Benetton ad: white liberals' idea of multiculti. There are extras who could be African or Asian. But Israel isn't a Benetton ad. 

Producer Roma Downey should not have cast herself as Mary, the mother of Jesus. Roma Downey is a Hollywood actress in her fifties, and she looks like it. Her face shows evidence of Botox and other products and procedures. She doesn't fit in a film full of filthy faces untouched by modern surgical procedures. For some reason, the filmmakers decided to make everyone filthy. I have lived in traditional, pre-modern villages and people in such settings don't walk around with dirt caked on their faces. They do groom their hair. Jerusalem is plunked down in the middle of a lifeless, moonscape desert. As any resident or pilgrim can tell you, it does rain, and there is green, in Jerusalem.

In the Huffington Post, Abe Foxman of the ADL argues that "Son of God" is without anti-Semitism. I'd have to disagree. Paul Marc Davis, an actor playing a hostile Pharisee, does look Jewish and he is dressed in Jewish garb. Touches like this impressed me as treading unnecessarily close to anti-Semitism. Another such touch: Caiaphas manipulates the crowds who voted for Pilate to release Barabbas instead of Jesus. This is not recorded in the Gospels. The film depicts Nicodemus praying Kaddish over Jesus. This may have been a conciliatory touch.

If you are looking for a cinematic life of Christ, there are many better options. George Stevens' "The Greatest Story Ever Told" is gorgeous, if slow. Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" is undeniably powerful, but disturbingly violent. The PBS miniseries "From Jesus to Christ" is fascinating.

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