MPAA Rating: PG-13
USCCB Rating: A-III
Reel Rating: (3 Reels out of 5)
greatest story ever told is also the most recognizable. The good news
has been retold so many times over so many centuries and in so many
wayspoems, plays, novels, movies, and mini-seriesthat another book or
film about Jesus cannot simply tell the story but must tell it in a new way.
Because the audience does not need every plot detail, the director is
often free to emphasize certain aspects of the narrative to highlight
specific lessons or characters.
This latest “Jesus movie” actually began as the ten-part miniseries The Bible on the History Channel, edited to a manageable two hours with a few new scenes for continuity. Unfortunately, Son of God still feels like a TV movie with film ambitions. The mustard seeds of those ambitions are present but never bloom into a tree.
Son of God focuses
on Jesus’ imperative to “be not afraid but believe,” an important
lesson in society where Christians increasingly feel alienated and even
persecuted. At the beginning, Pilate and his entourage are traveling to
Jerusalem when their way is blocked by a broken cart. Pilate promptly
tells his men to simply overturn the cart, ignoring a young Jewish boy
on top who is crushed to death. These violent Romans produce violent
Jews who continually encourage Jesus to help them conquer the foreign
oppressors. In addition to the violence on both sides, Jesus and his
followers are faced with a slow, dark conspiracy from their own
In response to all these enemies, Jesus
simply tells them to “be not afraid,” and repeats it again and again
throughout the film. This situation, when all of Jesus' enemies are
closing in, is eerily similar to today. The Church is faced with
militant Islam, aggressive atheism, civil discrimination, and even
corruption and sexual scandal from within her own walls. Christ too
tells us: “Be not afraid.” When secularism barks, simply believe. Jesus
rose from the dead; how could it possibly not work out?
the film handles surprisingly well is the Eucharist. At the last supper, Jesus
(Diogo Morgado) states firmly that the elements are indeed His Body and
Blood. This is not surprising but refreshing in a film that is not
catered to any specific Christian church or denomination. Judas (Joe
Wredden) receives the Eucharist like the other disciples but on his way
to betray Jesus spits it on the ground. It’s a shocking desecration that
mirrors what he is about to do. When Mary and Peter report the risen
Christ to the disciples, Peter consecrates the bread and wine and Jesus
suddenly emerges behind them. This extra-biblical addition lends itself
to possibly strange theology but makes clear the Real Presence of
Another unique feature is Greg Hicks'
riveting performance of Pontius Pilate. Most biblical films portray
Pilate as a hesitant philosopher who recognizes Jesus’ innocence but
wants to keep the peace. Here, Pilate is a ruthless dictator who
couldn’t care less about “what truth is.” After the crucifixion, he is
receiving an oil massage when his wife, troubled by his actions,
approaches him. He assures her, “this one is no different. He will be
forgotten in a week.” This might not be in complete agreement with the
biblical evidence but reminds the audience that Pilate had a central
role in Christ’ death.
Unfortunately, the biggest problem with Son of God
is the limitation of its television origins. As a small-screen
mini-series, it was widely popular and appealing. On the big screen, it
suffers from a lack of spectacle and scale. The beginning narration with
the elderly apostle John (Sebastian Knapp) covers the entire history of
salvationand the rest of the miniseriesfrom Adam right up to the
adult Jesus in a matter of minutes. Jesus calls Peter (Darwin Shaw, in a
great performance) and the rest of disciples in quick succession.
the film had kept this pace, it may have been more compelling but
grinds to a screeching halt in the second act, spending nearly an hour
on the intrigue of the Jewish authorities investigating Jesus. It also
reveals its small screen origin in a lack of characters. When Jesus
enters Jerusalem, only a handful of travelers are with him.
Computer-generated Jerusalem itself looks no bigger than the Washington
Mall. As Jesus enters the passion narrative, it is impossible not to
remember another film that premiered almost exactly a decade ago that
was so much better. When the cross is put in place, this movie even
replicates that previous film almost shot for shot.
Son of God
ultimately succumbs to the usual problems that plague films of this
nature. If “even the whole world would not have room for the books that
would be written” about Jesus, it is hardly surprising that a single
film would be lacking. The best approach to this subject is a long
episodic format like Zeffirelli’s miniseries Jesus of Nazareth. Film can be effective if it examines one facet of Christ like Wyler’s Ben-Hur.
However, Son of God
does succeed where it counts: excellent acting, strong writing, and a
firm evangelical invitation to a deeper relationship with Jesus. It is a
good film that does everything right, but in such a competitive field
with such a high standard of excellence, it falls just short of the