Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5.
USA, 2004. Icon Productions. Screenplay by Benedict Fitzgerald, Mel Gibson. Cinematography by Caleb Deschanel. Produced by Bruce Davey, Mel Gibson, Stephen McEveety. Music by John Debney. Production Design by Francesco Frigeri. Costume Design by Maurizio Millenotti. Film Editing by Steve Mirkovich, John Wright. Academy Awards 2004. National Board of Review Awards 2004.
The life of Christ as seen through the eyes of Braveheart. Jesus Christ (Jim Caviezel in a prosthetic nose) is arrested in the garden of Gethsemane after being betrayed by his disciple Judas, brought to trial before both Hebrew and Roman governments and then tortured and crucified as a blasphemer and dangerous rebel. The film, which has all of its dialogue spoken in Aramaic and Latin, shows the entire procedure in great detail, making sure to stop and carefully explain endless amounts of blood and gore to certify that the audience understands Christ’s suffering. This in and of itself is an admirable move on director Mel Gibson’s part, but the film has so very little of Christ’s message of love in it that his pains are devoid of context, and despite the fact that the torture scenes may be truthful they still seem shamelessly exploitative. Barely two moments are seen from the Sermon on the Mount, with one particular quote that says, “If you love only those that love you, what reward is there in that?” If you make a film about Christianity that was obviously made only for Christians, it begs the question of what the purpose of the exercise is. There are pockets of directorial brilliance here and there, moments of real emotional impact and some fascinating flourishes as well (it’s one the best visual interpretations of Satan ever put on film), but for the most part it is, sadly, a missed opportunity. This is the story about a man whose love changed the world, and whose message of humility and tolerance would still seem revolutionary today. Instead, Gibson takes the easy way out and concentrates on the one thing that audiences are already well desensitized and immune to: graphic violence. The seriousness of the subject matter doesn’t prevent one from simply detaching from the images, particularly since Jesus as a character is unfairly denied a personality. The good news is that despite Gibson’s lack of good taste (after all that torture we still needed to see a crow randomly picking out a man’s eyes?), Caviezel turns in a powerful and classy performance whenever he can. Maia Morgenstern and Monica Bellucci as Mary (Jesus’s mother) and Mary Magdalene (who is once again confused with the story about the woman whom Jesus saved from stoning) are relegated to window-dressing weepies, but even they do a very impressive job of making themselves known. The project as a whole, however, is a profoundly mediocre experience that owes more of its success to its clever marketing scheme than anything else. As for the anti-Semitic controversy, that a group of Jewish leaders come off as uniformly evil is as likely the result of Gibson’s general lack of emotional complexity combined with the terrible history of Passion Plays as anti-Jewish incitements to violence. The Last Temptation Of Christ may have gone overboard with its hypotheses and Jesus Christ Superstar may have all that singing, but at least they actually got you thinking.