(2016) (Adam Greaves-Neal, Sara Lazzaro) (PG-13)
- QUICK TAKE:
- Drama: As they travel from Alexandria to Jerusalem, young Jesus and his immediate and extended family must contend with a Roman centurion sent to kill him and a demon determined to undermine the messiah, all while the boy tries to understand the miracles he can perform.
- Seven years after his birth, young Jesus (ADAM GREAVES-NEAL) lives with his parents, Mary (SARA LAZZARO) and Joseph (VINCENT WALSH), and older brother, James (FINN McLEOD IRELAND), in Alexandria, Egypt, what with having fled their homeland and the earlier decree for the execution of all young male children in the vicinity of Bethlehem. After Jesus is accused of killing a slightly older bully -- something actually done by a Demon (RORY KEENAN) who's determined to undermine the young messiah -- but then miraculously resurrects the dead boy, Joseph decides -- based on that and a prophetic dream he had -- that they should return to Jerusalem.
Along with his parents and his uncle, Cleopas (CHRISTIAN McKAY), and that man's family, Jesus sets out on foot for Nazareth and ultimately Jerusalem. But when King Herod (JONATHAN BAILEY) gets wind of the young boy who's reportedly performing miracles, he orders a Roman centurion, Severus (SEAN BEAN), and his men -- including Weer (CLIVE RUSSELL) -- to find and kill the boy. With the help of others, the extended family manages to remain safe, all while Jesus ponders his unique abilities and his family struggles over the decision about whether to inform him that he's the son of God.
- OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
- I envy today's kids. Not because of their youth, long life still in front of them, or amazing technological, medical and other advancements that weren't available when I was growing up in the 1960s and '70s. No, I'm jealous that much of their lives is being stored for posterity via digital devices and various social media sites.
Not only will future generations and even archaeologists hundreds or thousands of years into the future be able to see how such people appeared, sounded, behaved and more, those very kids will be able to look back at their own childhoods later in life and see and hear the same.
For yours truly, there are no surviving audio or film clips (video didn't exist back then), so all I'm left with are various black and white and then color photos. They paint a little bit of a picture, but not much more than a sketch.
Of course, that's more than a generation before me, and ones before that had little to look back on, unless they were famous, powerful or were born into such a family. It is amazing that we know next to nothing about the childhoods of some of the most important, influential and famous people of all time, and to what degree those early years formed who and what they ultimately became.
Take, for instance, Jesus. While everyone is familiar with accounts of the Nativity and his later years leading up to the crucifixion and resurrection, there are few if any accounts of Jesus as a toddler or young boy. This week's release of "The Young Messiah" hopes to fill in some of those gaps. Granted, since there are no Biblical references to Jesus at that age, writer/director Cyrus Nowrasteh and co-writer Betsy Giffen Nowrasteh have obviously taken some artistic liberties with the religious figure and his early years.
Adapting Anne Rice's novel "Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt," they focus on Jesus as a 7-year-old boy (played by Adam Greaves-Neal) who lives with his parents (Sara Lazzaro and Vincent Walsh) and older brother (Finn McLeod Ireland) in Alexandria, Egypt. They fled there due to King Herod's earlier decree that all male infants be killed back in Jerusalem, but life isn't all hunky dory for the future messiah.
Not only must he contend with a bully picking on him, but Satan himself (or least a demon agent thereof, played by Rory Keenan) kills the bully and then has others believe Jesus is responsible. Reminded of the time he used his resurrection gift on a dead bird by the sea, Jesus brings the boy back to life, although he isn't sure how or why he's able to do so. He's also confused why no one will let him in on this secret, something his uncle (Christian McKay) believes his parents should do.
As Jesus ponders all of that, his immediate and extended family set off on foot to return to Jerusalem, believing it's now safe to do so. Yet, beyond old Beelzebub continuing to do his best to undermine the boy, the family must contend with Herod (Jonathan Bailey), having learned of such miracles, ordering his Roman centurion lackey (Sean Bean) to find and kill the boy.
That's about it as far as the plot is concerned. While the plot description above might sound like enough material to fill the film's runtime, the story and its characters could have used some to a lot more stretching out. In short, it's somewhat akin to the early parts of an origins story, without the rest of the movie.
Greaves-Neal is okay but not remarkable as the title character, occasionally experiencing some rough patches of acting, but at others doing an admirable job. Lazzaro and Walsh are good as his understandably concerned and cautious parents, and McKay is decent as a sort of comic relief uncle character.
Bailey hams it up perhaps a bit too much as the decadent and mean ruler, and Bean is okay essentially playing just another take -- following Joseph Fiennes in "Risen" -- on the hardened Roman soldier who softens as he interacts with Jesus. Keenan looks menacing as the evil entity, but he's little more than a sketch. Tech credits are solid, as is composer John Debney's score, although that sometimes drives home the point of any given scene a bit harder than needed.
Overall, I found this offering okay but not overly moving, inspirational or informative. With photos, video and Facebook and Twitter posts being a few thousand years in the future from the film's setting, it's anyone's guess about what Jesus would have been like as a boy. Viewer response will likely vary about this artistic guess and interpretation, but I doubt "The Young Messiah" will inspire many other future cinematic looks at the religious figure's early years. The film rates as a 5 out of 10.
Reviewed March 6, 2016 / Posted March 11, 2016
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