Movie Reviews by Kris Griffiths and S Felce
Starring: James Caviezel, Maia Morgenstern, Monica Bellucci, Mattia Sbragia
Director: Mel Gibson
Review by Kris Griffiths
In the old Christ classics like KING OF KINGS and THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD, the moving narrative of Jesus’ life is channelled towards Easter Sunday redemption. Mel Gibson, however, who appears to be claiming that God was his co-director, is only interested in Good Friday gore and not much more.
All “how” but no “why?”, his take on Christ’s final hours is so brutal and bludgeoning that any flickers of redemption are swept away with the tide of blood. In two torrid hours Jim Caviezel (sharing J.C’s initials) is booted, battered, chained, caned, flogged, flung off a bridge, crowned with thorns, then crucified. But was it really as it was?
For a portrayal purporting to be grounded in the gospels, the dramatic license is excessive. Embellishments at first prove effective: in Gethsemane Jesus stamps on Satan’s snake offering him an easy way out via snakebite; meanwhile Judas is chased around by a gang of demonic scallywags personifying his conscience. Plausibility diminishes though upon his face-to-face rendezvous with Jesus dangling from a bridge.
We are soon introduced to Pontius Pilate’s wife, babbling of bad dreams about the Jewish bad-boy. There follows the flagellation scene and the crux of the film’s problem. For an occurrence barely mentioned in the gospels, Gibson drags out fifteen minutes of Jesus being caned and scourged into a bloody mess. The 100+ lashes progressively stretch the credibility of what someone can endure without expiring, and splatter the floor with more blood than any man can do without. The sadistic soldiers cackle heartily as though turning the courtyard into a crazy Jackson Pollock painting is the best fun they’ve ever had (if anything the film is anti-Roman rather than anti-Semitic). Then Satan appears again, this time holding a hairy midget in his arms – an image as baffling as Mrs Pilate giving Mary some towels to wipe the blood off the floor.
By the time the cross is raised, the film has descended into a fetishistic snuff movie with muddled motives. No sooner has Jesus uttered “Forgive them, Father”, a crow swoops down to devour the jeering robber’s eyes on the neighbouring cross. Even as Gibson attempts to lift the message of forgiveness from his swamp, the grotesque pulls it back under.
The sad thing is that THE PASSION comes close to greatness for many reasons beyond the director’s confused imagination. The subtitled Aramaic and Latin is a wise move, as is the usage of lesser-known actors. Caleb Deschanel’s gritty cinematography also heightens the grandeur of the film’s epic feel, epitomised in the first solitary raindrop that falls upon Calvary. Memories used more sparingly would have inversely increased their effectiveness, typified in the snippet of Mary comforting her little boy, but we end up frustrated by flashback overkill.
Such fleeting relief from the relentless savagery is already lost on an audience whose faces have been rubbed into the suffering and pummelled into numbness. Gibson spares us no mercy, but this also works in his favour. THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST bestows an irresistible visceral power hitherto unfelt at the cinema. Whether you enjoy it depends on your tolerance of grievous violence, the extent of your disbelief suspension, and whatever compelled you to witness it in the first place.
Review by S Felce
The cinema theatre went silent for 126 minutes. At times there were some sobs. Then the film finished but everybody was still silent. It took a good couple of minutes for people to stand up and yet, half of the theatre stayed still, frozen, just looking at the screen while the credits were running. I didn’t stand up either.
Gibson’s new movie is about the last twelve hours of Jesus’ life, according to the four Biblical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It tells the story of the passion of Christ, meaning both his suffering and his deep love. Gibson wanted it to be a true and realistic account of what happened. All the characters speak the languages that would have been spoken at that time, being Aramaic for the Jewish and Latin for the Romans. Staying true to the time period also means the inclusion of crude and graphic scenes of torture and the crucifixion, worthy of any Tarantino film. Above all, Gibson brought to the screen the charisma of Jesus, his sacrifice in the name of love and the wickedness of human nature.
Regardless of your religion or your faith you will find the presence of hope and love running throughout the entirety of the film and it’s a very strong presence, thanks to the stunning performance of Jim Caviezel, the cinematography of Caleb Deschanel and the music of John Debney.
THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST comes across as half reality and half dream. It is a very strong film but especially strong is the mark it will leave on you after you have watched it.