by Jeremy Griffith
American Millennium Online
I saw “Son Of God” in theaters this week and I liked it. I would recommend it to any of my friends. It had all the tear-jerking drama of the greatest story ever told without the gratuitous gore and blood of Mel Gibson’s “Passion of The Christ” which came out a decade ago. While the acting was solid, it wasn’t quite up to par with “Passion”, but the viewer would be engrossed in the story without being grossed out.
I have to say, I found it hard to divorce the steely-eyed film critic from the Bible believing Christian I am, but I gave it a go this last Monday. I found it hard after a while to see through tears and I wondered if it wasn’t because of my faith in the story rather than the eloquence of the drama as portrayed. As I sat in the dark watching this film, I complied a best of list of 14 or so great scenes I think made this film a good one, if not great, and I added a short list of scenes I thought were not up to par. I found myself comparing the film to Passion of the Christ from film director Mel Gibson. The acting in this film wasn’t quite as good as Passion, the cinematography was excellent, the acting was good most of the time and there were just a few scenes I felt really didn’t cut it for me. Overall I thought this film would be of interest to Christians, who would appreciate the story told without all the messy gore brought to us by Gibson’s movie. I have no idea how this film would affect non-believers who are not familiar with the story in scripture.
Compliments go to Roma Downey who was one of the producers of the film and also portrayed the mother of Jesus in the film. I thought she did an outstanding job in the film and really connected with the audience. She really did a good job convincing the audience that she could be the mother of Jesus. That is not the most important work she did for this film however; that job was the one of bringing this movie, and The Bible mini-series to completion with her husband Mark Burnett. This movie was largely the extended version of the life of Jesus as told by The Bible Series that came out last year, but it was not a rehash that I worried it would be.
There were some notable characters that deserve some credit for the drama and delivery of the film. Sebastian Knapp, who played John, was one of the more believable of the disciples who connected best with the audience. Greg Hicks, a marvelously complex actor, played the charismatic and ruthless Pontius Pilate. Darwin Shaw gets an honorable mention as Peter. Diogo Morgado plays a passably good Jesus with just a moment or two where the acting and script is weaker.
There is one last character I’d like to mention who made an impression, the individual who played Barabbas, Fraser Ayres. He has two moments in the top fourteen.
And here they are; the top fourteen moments in “Son of God”.
#14 Jesus and Barabbas: Ayres and Morgado have a moment where Barabbas and Jesus meet for the first time. There are moments in the film in which Jesus seems to stop time with his authority from God and this is one of those times. Jesus is marching into Jerusalem on a donkey when he is confronted by Barabbas; who is trying to whip up the crowd. Jesus silences Barabbas with a gesture and you can see the loud-mouthed Barabbas instantly moved to silence by the power of the Son of God. Well played on Ayers’ part.
#13 Barabbas again, I like this rather minor character. The religious leaders are trying to trap Jesus in the Temple after the Lord overturns the money tables. “What shall we do?” they ask Jesus. “Should we pay taxes to Caesar or not?” Barabbas is there trying to start a riot, yelling that the Jews should “not pay”. He’s almost gleeful as he is enticing the crowd to violence. Jesus gives his legendary answer that one should pay to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. Barabbas leaves, visibly deflated by what Jesus has said.
#12 Jesus feeds five thousand: Jesus and the disciples disembark the boat and find a crowd waiting for them. They have no food for them, only a basket with some fish and some bread. Jesus prays and then distributes the food. The Apostle John, as surprised as the rest, has a basket in his hand that was all but empty a moment before. Suddenly it is filled and John cannot contain his happy enthusiasm. It’s a great little moment.
#11 Pilate is practicing his fencing: while not strictly in the Bible, this scene shows how charismatic and ruthless Pilate is. He is dueling a servant and deliberately wounds him in the swordplay. The audience gets a feeling that this is not a governor to be trifled with, a hands-on guy who is willing to inflict a little pain if it serves his purposes.
#10 Mary Magdalene played by Amber Rose Revah is on the boat with the disciples. Thomas the Apostle played by Matthew Gravelle is griping about something, saying in essence that Jesus’s recent actions don’t make sense to him. Mary gives him an earful on having faith. I like this moment because it shows that it just wasn’t men who had contact with Jesus, but women played a role in the early church. Revah is a firebrand who I liked very much.
#9 Mary again: Jesus has been crucified and buried. The disciples are in morning and hiding. Mary goes to the tomb alone and finds the stone that covered the tomb opening is not only rolled away, it is shattered in half. The tomb is empty except for the burial cloths. Mary is dumbfounded. Suddenly Jesus appears in the mouth of the tomb and Mary is inside the tomb looking at Jesus backlit from the sun. I like this scene because it shows Jesus in the light of life and Mary, who represents all of us, in the darkness of death inside a tomb. Well done by both actors.
#8 Thomas, played by Matthew Gravelle, is talking to Jesus at the last supper. Jesus has told the disciples that he is about to be betrayed, but he tells his followers not to fear. He is going away and his friends will follow him soon where he is going. Thomas asks, “How can we follow you to where you are going when we don’t know the way?” Jesus responds, “I am the way!” Me crying!
#7 Peter renounces Jesus: After the last supper, Jesus is talking to Peter. Peter is adamant; he says that even if all leave, Peter will follow Jesus even to the grave, he will lay down his life for him. “Will you?” says Jesus. “Before dawn you will deny me three times!” You can see the blood ebbing from Peter’s face as he turns to follow Jesus to the Garden of Gethsemane. Wow!
#6 Jesus is arrested: Jesus is about to be arrested and is kissed by his betrayer, Judas, played by Joe Wredden. A riot ensues and Peter rushes to defend Jesus, cutting off the ear of the captain of the guards. Jesus stops time again and everyone focuses on Jesus as he reprimands his disciple. “Those who take up the sword,” Jesus says, “will perish by the sword.” This is probably one of my best scenes in the movie. Well acted.
#5 John in exile: The Apostle John is one of the last disciples left alive after all of the others have died or have been murdered. He is living on an island all alone, exiled for his faith. Jesus appears to John and John is crying tears of joy. This is the moment he has waited for all his life, to see his Lord again. A visibly older and frailer John cannot believe his eyes as the Lord approaches him. Very moving.
#4 Jesus is marching his cross to the site where he is to be crucified. He stumbles and falls. His mother, played by Downey, stoops to help him and mother and son exchange glances and a few words. This is an incredibly moving moment. Not quite as strong as moments in “Passion” where Mary flashes back to Jesus’s boyhood, but still quite strong. This is one of the best moments of the film and best depicts Mary’s anguish at the event of her son’s death.
#3 Pilate and his wife: Jesus is being executed and you can see parts of his body marred by blood. The scene cuts to Pilate who is getting a massage with oil. His wife is there rebuking him for being involved in Jesus’s death. This scene is very well done. Now Jesus is suffering, but wait, it will be these two who will suffer later. Very well done.
#2 The Sea of Galilee as Jesus calms the storm: the disciples are in the boat and Jesus is not with them. This scene combines two separate scenes depicted in the Bible; one where Jesus is in the boat asleep during a terrible storm and calms the storm before everyone is killed. Another scene is where the disciples are in the boat and Jesus comes to them walking on the water. In this scene, the two stories are combined. We see the disciples in the boat about to be killed in a storm and then a ghostly Jesus, who was not in the boat, comes walking to them on the water. Peter goes out to him, walking on the surface for a while, but looking back, he loses his faith and his footing and plunges down. Jesus rescues him and rebukes him for his lack of faith. Foreshadowing? A good scene for everyone involved.
#1 The Great Commission: probably the most moving scene in the movie. Jesus is talking to the disciples atop a mountain. He commands them to preach the Gospel to the world and then vanishes in a brilliant light. Peter turns his back on the where Jesus once stood and strides away off the mountain. “Come,” he says, “We have work to do!” In this moment the disciples are transfigured from cowards into faithful and brave servants of Christ and Peter, who was a denier of Christ before, becomes their captain. Very cool.
And now for the not so great. There are moments in the Bible story of Jesus that resonate with every Christian. Sadly, in this movie, the acting or the script or something gets in the way and is not as strong as it could be. First on my list, the moment Jesus rescues an adulterous woman about to be stoned. It would be a great moment except; Jesus doesn’t follow the scrip as told by the original scripture. Instead, he makes it up and the line he delivers is not as strong as what the Bible originally reports. Very sad.
Number two: This is the most disappointing scene in the film and unfortunately, it is not Greg Hicks’s (Pilate) fault. Jesus is being interrogated by Pilate in prison. Pilate played by Hicks delivers his lines flawlessly and instead of getting torn down by the awe-impiring Son of God, we get a rather weak and mushy response from Morgado as Jesus. This is really upsetting because this is normally a great opportunity to show how Jesus interacted with people around him and Morgado doesn’t deliver. Bummer. Compare this scene with the scene involving the same characters in “Passion”. Jesus is played by Jim Caviezal, one of the all time best portrayals of Christ in film, and the very best portrayal in movie history of Pontius Pilate portrayed by Hristo Shopov!
While Shopov and Hicks are at their top of their game as the charismatic and complex Roman Governor, Caviezal and Morgado are not even in the same ball park. Clearly Caviezal is playing the World Series and Morgado is little league, but Morgado wasn’t at all helped by the script writer or the videographer at this point. Jesus as played by Morgado looked like a crazy person on acid with far too much hair. He didn’t know what he was doing, did not give the appearance of the second most powerful entity of the universe. Very disappointing.
Overall I think this show is worthwhile if you want to spend your time and money to see it. The characters with the exception of Roma’s Mary aren’t top billed actors, but they all deliver solid performances with very few exceptions. I would give it four and a half stars out of five, deducting half a star for some script and acting problems I previously mentioned. In comparison I give “Passion” four and a half stars as well, deducting half a star for Gibson’s obsession with dousing the audience in gratuitous blood and gore, and for scaring the B’Jesus out of us with a nightmarishly hermaphroditic Satan character. And that’s my view