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Son of God (2014)

| March 24, 2014 | 0 Comments

It is clear that Hollywood’s noble intent for 2014 is to bring back the big-budget biblical epic.  Later this month we’ll get the story of Noah starring Russell Crowe, and this Christmas we’ll get Ridley Scott’s Exodus starring – get this – Christian Bale as Moses.  This can either lead to a renaissance or a folly of historic proportions.  I say that because things are not looking too promising as Son of God, the first of 2014’s Bible-based big-screen ventures stumbles out of the gate.

Son of God is a bland, uncomplicated and inoffensive mini-epic that tells Jesus’ story in the same manner that we heard about it in Sunday school as children.  It has been produced by “Survivor” creator Mark Burnett and his wife Roma Downey as an extension of The History Channel’s 7-hour mini-series “The Bible” which premiered last March, following the same chopped up narrative structure as the series – that’s not good news.  What you get here are a series of highlights of the most important moments in Jesus’ life: He heals the sick, raises the dead, feeds the multitudes, walks on water, gives inspiring sermons and gets under the skin of the Romans until they crucify him.

What’s missing are the spaces in between.  It is reasonable to assume that Jesus’ dual personality must have caused him great emotional and mental distress, especially in knowing what his ultimate fate was going to be.  One of the problems is that the actor playing Jesus never gives us the idea that Jesus was thinking at all.  He’s played by a Portuguese fashion model named Diogo Murgado who has a dreamy face and good dental work but he keeps Jesus at arm’s length.  Christ remains remote and distant, an icon without substance or conflict.  He’s more of a picture postcard.

In fact, everything in this movie looks pretty.  One of the great ironies of Jesus’ life is that he managed to preach the message of love in some of the most inhospitable landscapes on the planet.  He was teaching about the kingdom of Heaven amid rocks, dirt, and sparse trees.  This movie looks like it was filmed at a national park.

The supporting cast is made up of mostly unknown actors but it hardly matters.  They remain in the shadows, looking at Jesus from the backgrounds, but never being fully realized as people.  That’s especially true of his disciples, of whom we only really get to know Peter.  The rest are just filler. Jesus’ mother Mary (Roma Downey) exists in the film only to watch her some beaten and crucified, meanwhile Mary Magdaline comes in as a cameo and – unless I missed something – is never allowed to speak. The role of Pilate, the Roman prefect who condemns Jesus to death, is played by actor Greg Hicks as a bitter old snort with a permanent scowl affixed to his face and a perverse pleasure at dispatching Jews in order to teach the unsettled masses lesson.  Yes, he eventually washes his hands of the Jesus matter, but we never sense any kind of conflict within him.

The one character in the movie that comes close to being a full character is Judas.  Played by actor Joe Wredden, we can sense his inner conflict as he is asked by the high priest to betray Jesus and accepts with the acid-tongued retort “What’s in it for me?”  The film’s best scene takes place at the last supper as Jesus breaks off a small piece of break and announces that his betrayer will eat it, then places it on Judas’ tongue.  It’s a strong, but all too brief, moment.  Another takes place as Jesus is hauling the cross on his shoulders, and the camera backs up to show us how far he must carry it up to Calvary.

The scenes of Jesus’ persecution and death are emotionally stirring (aided mostly by Han Zimmer’s booming score) but you can’t watch those scenes and not think of the impact of two earlier films.  One is Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, which wanted us to feel the impact of every ounce of pain that Jesus had to endure.  The other is Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ which, for all its controversial baggage, at least had the courage to get inside Jesus’ head and feel the torment that his dual identity forced upon him.  Those two films do everything right that this movie gets wrong.  It is not enough to tell us that Jesus did great things.  Jesus was the most famous man who ever walked the face of the Earth.  It is almost criminal to make a movie about his life and leave out the humanity that he struggled with.  Jesus is the most famous man in human history.  Why limit him to the highlights?

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2014) View IMDB Filed in: Drama, Recent