The Passion of The Christ Movie Review
I am an athiest. Or a strong agnostic. Either way, going into The Passion of The Christ, it was predetermined that I would have a different perspective on the movie - one that is more technical and tuned to the quality of the film, not just the story it is telling. The Passion is made for Christians, but is it something others can appreciate?
Unless you've been in a coma for the last few months, it is doubtful that you haven't heard of the controversy that is what appears to be Mel Gibson's most personal film (is it 'The Passion of The Christ' or 'The Passion of Mel'?). Aside from the fact that the movie depicts the last 12 hours of Jesus's life in brutally violent realism, the movie has sparked a debate over anti-semitism, a subject that is touchy no matter how one looks at it. According to Gibson, his movie is historically accurate, including his depiction of the Jews (who, in this movie, are definitely given much of the responsibility of the crucifiction), but there are some that say he shows Jews in an overly negative light. Having not nearly as much religious knowledge as I would like, I cannot comment on the accuracy of the film - all I can remark on is Gibson's intentions. It is fairly obvious that Gibson is not anti-semetic (his father may be another story altogether); he just wants to tell a story that is very important to him. The approach is not politically correct, but then again, the story isn't politically correct. Does that mean it shouldn't be made?
On the other hand, it is clear that those that are ignorant may react in anti-semetic fashion upon seeing this film. All religions have a percentage that are quite ignorant to the true purpose of the word of God and their religion as a whole, and usually reveal themselves as intolerant of other cultures and ideas. Christianity has these people, Islam has these people, and the basic truth is that some people will twist the point of this movie into anti-semetic views.
Regardless of how some fraction of people will interpret this movie, there is another issue at hand - one that I can address. That is: is the movie any good? The Passion of The Christ is a bloody depiction of Jesus's final hours, so a good proportion of the droves of church-going people attending the movie are probably more interested in the story than the movie as a whole. Since I do not hold the same beliefs as many of these people, I am more interested in addressing other aspects of the film that could be overlooked.
Thankfully, there is not too much to complain about in The Passion of The Christ. The movie is good - perhaps really good. Though I am not religious, the story is engulfing, engaging and emotionally draining, if not for the pure physical torture that is shown on screen. It would be hard for anyone to sit through this movie and not become drawn into this story where every inch of Jesus's body is torn apart by whips and sticks. Blood is everywhere, and the agony can be felt by every audience member. The question does arise as to whether this movie is more than just a film of torture, and honestly, it is hard to figure out. The Passion is fairly powerful and obviously, for a Christian, quite emotional, but at times it does seem as though the movie is powerful for the single reason that a man is being tortured to death on screen. Every once in a while, the thought ran through my head that I was engaged in the movie only because I felt so sorry for this man that was physically being torn apart. For the most part, there is more going on than just a man being beaten, but from a movie standpoint, should there be something more?
Technically, The Passion is fairly impressive. Mel Gibson, who obviously has directing talent considering that his last venture, Braveheart, won Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director, puts his talent to good use. The movie is rich and the setting draws the audience into the city. His use of slow-motion shots does not seem cheesy at all, and the music works well with what is happening on screen. Thankfully, he was talked into including subtitles for the Aramaic and Latin languages spoken in the movie - he had originally planned for the movie to be released without any translation.
The movie really only stumbles in the flashbacks, which seem to chop up the "action" quite heavily. The transitions from the present time to the Jesus' past are a little too simple, and at times the flashbacks seem like nothing more than filler. It is quite obvious what Gibson is attempting to do, but he does not completely succeed.
The other questionable aspect of the movie, and the most surprising, is Gibson's use of the Devil and demons. I loved the portrayal of Satan (Rosalinda Celentano), but the amount of demons that Gibson literally portrays in the movie is a bit odd. The demons are probably the creepiest things I've seen since The Exorcist, and seemed to work more as a scare tactic than as a symbol of evil.
Finally, I was unimpressed with the last minute or two of the film. The aerial shot looking straight down on the cliff where Jesus is crucified is weird, and the computerized raindrop (obviously symbolizing more than water) took some credibility out of an otherwise great-looking film. The use of computer graphics (including the hole in Jesus' hand) really takes something out of the final impact of the movie.
Changing directions, the acting overall is quite impressive. James Caveziel, who plays Jesus, does a good job. Claudia Gerini, who portrays Claudia Procles, also makes for an interesting character. Of course, with the actors speaking in languages that few people today speak, it is hard to fully grasp how well these actors have done (some Chinese complained that the accents in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon were quite dreadful, but non-Mandarin speakers had no idea). All I can say is that while watching The Passion, I couldn't even recognize Caveziel, both physically and otherwise. That says something.
Mel Gibson has made an impressive movie that will be debated for years to come. It is a beautifully crafted movie that has a difficult but mesmerizing story to tell. Nevertheless, it is hard to determine how this movie will rate against other quality films come award season. For many, this story hits close to home, but from a purely critical viewpoint, there will be better movies this year. The Passion of The Christ is a force to be reckoned with, though, to some extent, that is based on the story and not the film itself.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.