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"SON OF GOD"
(2014) (Diogo Morgado, Roma Downey) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Biblical Drama: The story of Jesus Christ is told from his birth to his ministry to the Crucifixion and Resurrection.
PLOT:
During the time of the Roman Empire and Julius Caesar, Jesus of Nazareth (DIOGO MORGADO) is born in the town of Bethlehem to the Virgin Mary (ROMA DOWNEY) and grows up to become a great teacher, healer, and rabbi. He develops a large following and assembles 12 disciples, mostly commoners such as the fisherman, Peter (DARWIN SHAW); the good-hearted John (SEBASTIAN KNAPP); and his eventual betrayer, Judas Iscariot (JOE WREDDEN).

When Jesus proclaims himself the Messiah, the only Son of God, he is accused of blasphemy by Caiaphas (ADRIAN SCHILLER), Simon the Pharisee (PAUL MARC DAVIS), and other Jewish leaders of the time. During Passover in the City of Jerusalem, they seize Christ and bring him before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate (GREG HICKS), to be tried as an enemy of the state who has threatened insurrection.

After having Jesus whipped, Pilate adheres to Jewish Passover tradition and offers the people a choice -- release Jesus or the murderer Barabbas (FRASER AYRES). Incited by Caiaphas who stacks the crowd with those he has been able to influence, the people pick Barabbas and Jesus is brutally crucified. Three days after his death, though, he rises from the dead and inspires his disciples to launch an outreach ministry that will change the world.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
I think it's only right to let you know in advance of this review that I am a Christian. I was raised Lutheran, went to a Catholic middle and high school (a period of my life I refer to as "My Vietnam"), and go to worship most Sundays at a local United Church of Christ. So, am I gonna give a bad review to "Son of God," the reverent new movie about the life, death, and ministry of Jesus? Hell ... er, uh, heck no! If even a reasonably competent director tells the story as is with solid actors and good production values, it's going to be a worthwhile cinematic experience. And "Son of God" is just that for believers.

For anyone else? Unfortunately, no, the film is more of a checklist of great Gospel moments than a story freshly told with new energy. In my view, the film fails to do two things. One, the specter of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" -- a mega-blockbuster that dramatized the suffering and Crucifixion is graphic R-rated detail -- hangs over the final hour. That film was such an example of extreme cinema made fascinating because it was actually driven by a filmmaker and major Hollywood player who had obviously been wrestling with his own demons. I think it went way too far in its brutality. But I've never quite shaken that film as a Christian. And there are sequences Gibson captured on screen that haunt me to this day.

Two, anyone who has seen Biblical movies over the years will have their own favorite depiction of Jesus, and I can't see how this one will supplant or replace any of them. The Greatest Generation and Baby Boomers had "King of Kings" and "The Greatest Story Ever Told" (along with Christ's cameos throughout "Ben-Hur"). Generation Y had Mad Max's "The Passion." As a member of Generation X, we had what I consider the single greatest portrayal of J.C. -- Robert Powell in Franco Zefferelli's "Jesus of Nazareth" miniseries that debuted in 1977 and ran on NBC year after year for at least a decade or more later around Easter.

"Son of God" is beautifully intentioned and extremely straight-forward in its storytelling. And the film is REALLY helped by Hans Zimmer's musical score. But director Christopher Spencer just is not in the same league as other major filmmakers who have tackled the Jesus story from different angles -- Gibson, Zefferelli, Martin Scorsese of "The Last Temptation of Christ" and so forth. Many of the major and minor scenes seem staged, blocked, and overly rehearsed. And the film doesn't build any energy until the Last Supper and the imminent threat to Jesus' life starts building.

On the positive side -- and there ARE numerous positives -- I appreciated that the film cast largely unknowns in nearly all of the major and minor parts. Diogo Morgado is perhaps the most physically attractive man to ever play Jesus, and he brings a kinder, gentler approach to J.C. than any I have seen before. I also really liked Sebastian Knapp as John, whose story in exile bookends the film; Adrian Schiller in the thankless role of Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest who actively plots against Jesus at Passover; and Greg Hicks, who is quite strong as Pilate who has to deal with politics and a wife with recurring nightmares.

As with most movies about the Gospel story, only a couple of the disciples get any real screen time. The rest are just glorified extras with close-ups from time to time, and that's still a bit of a shame. The filmmakers wisely sidestep the whole Mary Magdalene issue raised by "The Da Vinci Code" and other books and, yes, the Devil character who bore a resemblance to President Obama in "The Bible" History Channel mini-series on which this film is based is not in the film at all.

Bottom line? "Son of God" will prove an inevitably powerful experience for Christian audiences. It's a film made for them by people who do seem to have noble intentions. So, why another Jesus movie, some of you ask? Yeah, I ask the same thing about Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, James Bond, Jason Voorhees, and so on and so on. Some stories just bear re-telling and re-casting. I give this a solid 5.5 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed February 25, 2014 / Posted February 28, 20014


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