Friday, February 28, 2014

Son of God [2014]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  ChicagoTribune (2 1/2 Stars) (2 Stars)  AVClub (C)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (R. Moore) review (S. O'Malley) review
AVClub (B. Kenigsberg) review

Son of God [2014] (directed and screenplay cowritten by Christopher Spencer along with Richard Bedser, Colin Swash and Nic Young) is IMHO a truly welcome theatrical release as Lent begins next week.  Made by the same people who made the_excellent_ five episode (10 hour) series The Bible [2013] which aired last year on the History Channel during Holy Week (just before Easter) last year, Son of God [2013] is basically the episode on Jesus (Episode 4) of that series, somewhat reworked, so that it could serve as a stand alone film.

As a stand alone film, it's perhaps a little "weaker" than the 10 hour series taken together, perhaps because so many of us are so "familiar with the story."  NEVERTHELESS, I'M STILL EXTREMELY HAPPY THAT THE FILM WAS RELEASED IN THIS FORM.  Why?

(1) Because it's timely/appropriate.  Lent is coming up and honestly for millions upon millions of Catholic/Christian believing families in the United States (and then across the world) Son of God [2014] does offer a _very nice_ alternative to the standard movie-release fare of this time of year -- still far from the Summer Blockbuster season and eons away from the "awardable movie season" that generally only begins in the Fall.  So I am _very happy_ that there appear to be actually a fair number of Christian/Biblically themed movies scheduled to come out over the next couple of months and APPLAUD Hollywood's apparent "experiment" this year to see if offering (at least some) films that would appeal to the sensibilities of Catholic/Christian believing families during this time of year would bring more people to the theaters than offering films that generally do not. 

(2) When Son of God [2014] comes out on DVD later in the year, it will give viewers the choice of either renting _the whole_ five episode (10 hour) The Bible [2013] series OR simply renting the two hour episode that focuses on Jesus reworked here into this film.  I COMPLETELY "GET IT" and I APPLAUD THE PRODUCERS HERE.  And yes, if the film makes 25-30-50 million dollars through a theatrical release from grateful Catholic/Christian families happy to have something to take their kids to the movies to during this time of year EVEN BEFORE THE FILM MAKES IT TO DVD so much the better for them.

To the movie ... As in the case of the entire The Bible [2013] series, I do marvel at some of the creativity on the part of the screenwriters in structuring the film.  So ... who we see FIRST in this film is JOHN (played by Sebastian Knapp), NOT John the Baptist [IMDb] who does show up briefly later on and is played by a "wildman/dreadlock" wearing Daniel Percival) BUT RATHER AN ELDERLY JOHN THE APOSTLE [IMDb], near the end of his life living by tradition in exile in a cave on the Island of Patmos.  And he's recounting the story of Jesus to a group of assembled disciples.

How does John start his story of Jesus to his disciples: "In the beginning ... there was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came to be through him and without him nothing came to be" Where do those words come from?  FROM THE FAMOUS PROLOGUE OF JOHN'S GOSPEL (John 1:1ff)  And as he recounts this to his disciples, little flashbacks from the first pages of Genesis to Noah to Abraham to Moses to David and beyond are presented.... "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us and we saw his glory" (John 1:14).  What viewers see at this point is the playing out of the story of the Magi following "the Star" to Bethlehem to bring gives and pay homage to the infant Jesus before his amazed parents Mary and Joseph (Mt 2:1-12). ...

The story then jumps to the beginning of Jesus' ministry with Jesus [IMDb] (played by Diogo Morgado) calling St. Peter [IMDb] (played by Darwin Shaw) by the shores of Galilee.  The story does jump a lot from Gospel to Gospel (as all conflated presentations of Jesus' life do) and it puts various events recalled of Jesus' life in the Gospels in different order, generally for illuminative/dramatic effect.  TO ME, IT GENERALLY WORKS.

For instance, the film has Jesus confronted by a random Galilean Pharisee (played by Paul Marc Davis).  The Pharisee's irritated above all that Jesus seemed to be a more successful preacher/teacher than he was ("stealing" a "few of his sheep" along the way ... NO ONE LIKES THAT VERY MUCH  ;-).  So the somewhat jealous Pharisee tries to point out to Jesus that Jesus was in a sense "cheating" by filling the ranks of his ranks with various previous sinners and even tax collectors.  Jesus' grateful desciples understand Jesus' ministry as precisely "giving people another chance." (What a lovely way of understanding what both Jesus was and the Church/Christianity are all about).

So the film has Jesus responding to the Pharisee with his famous Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector (Lk 18:9-14) right then and there (rather than in Temple in Jerusalem where the Gospels place the story) telling the story of a Pharisee praying to God at the Temple saying: "'I thank you God for being not like other men -- greedy, dishonest, adulterous -- or even like this tax collector over there ...' while the tax collector stood off at a distance, would not raise up his eyes toward heaven, but instead beat his breast and said..." AND HERE THE FILM HAS MATTHEW THE TAX COLLECTOR (TURNED LATER APOSTLE and EVANGELIST) [IMDb] (played here by Said Bey) HEARING JESUS TELLING THIS PARABLE FROM HIS TAX COLLECTOR'S TABLE and COMPLETING IT by saying WITH TEARS RUNNING DOWN HIS EYES: "Have mercy on me God, a sinner."  For those of us who've prayed and "chewed" on passages such as these FOR THE BETTER PART OF OUR LIVES this is GREAT STUFF.

I do love the film's portrayal of St. Thomas [IMDb] (played here by Matthew Gravel) who's portrayed as ever worried/skeptical and always asking a lot of questions (he's been remembered as "Doubting Thomas" after all ;-)

I do believe that Mary Magdalene [IMDb] (played in the film by Amber Rose Rivah) was PORTRAYED VERY WELL (and indeed _right down the middle_) AS A BOTH KEY MEMBER OF JESUS' DISCIPLES BUT ALSO NEITHER A "RECOVERING PROSTITUTE" NOR "JESUS' WIFE OR LOVER." Basically she's portrayed as a mature, "can hold her own" independent woman.

With regard to Mary, the Mother of Jesus [IMDb] (played in the film first by Leila Mimmack and later by Roma Downey, one of the film's/series' producers) was again portrayed quite well.  Much ink among various film critics has been spent comparing this film's portrayal of Jesus' Passion to the quite brutal portrayal in Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ [2004] (Gibson had his reasons for portraying it in that way and his portrayal of Jesus' Passion did serve as perhaps a useful correction to its portrayals in recent decades past which seemed to "sanitize" / "make light" of the suffering involved.  In any case, the portrayal of Jesus' Passion here was somewhat less bloody than Gibson's.  However, viewers would still have no doubt that Jesus _did indeed suffer_ here ... for us).  HOWEVER, what I appreciate in the current film is its "nicer homage" to Gibson's film BY PORTRAYING ONCE AGAIN MARY AT THE CROSS AND THEN HOLDING THE DEAD BODY OF HER SON IN HER ARMS AFTER HE WAS TAKEN DOWN FROM IT (This was the subject of Michelangelo's famous Pieta' and s also my Servite religious Order's "6th Sorrow of Mary").

Indeed John Mulderig, the reviewer for the USCCB/CNS, noted in his review of the film that there are many aspects of this film that the Catholic viewer would happily appreciate. These include (1) the film's portrayal of St. Peter as the unambiguous leader of Jesus' Apostles, (2) its portrayal of Mary at the foot of the cross even (3) its portrayal of the Apostles using the ritual taught them by Jesus at his Last Supper to remember him (and indeed TO MAKE HIM PRESENT TO THEM) after his Resurrection.

I would also add that as I noted already in my review of the full The Bible [2013] series, I appreciated the film's inclusivity, in this film above all expressed with SIMON THE CYRENE (LIBYAN, FROM AFRICA) who HELPED CARRY JESUS' CROSS portrayed in this film AS BLACK (played in the film by Idrissa Sisco).  I honestly liked that detail.

So I do have to say that Catholic/Christian parents "could do much worse" in the coming weeks (of LENT) than going to see this lovely film about Jesus, who we proclaim to the world as the Son of God.  And even those who are not religious ought to be thankful to Hollywood for deciding to "throw us a bone" this year.  Thanks to this film (and several other Biblically themed films to be released in the coming weeks) "business will be up" in theaters this year.  Good job!

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