MOVIE l Son of God l M
Son of God, adapted from the miniseries The Bible produced by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, is an odd project. First it clearly is a television series gussied up to look like a feature film. The proceedings are shot by documentarian Christopher Spencer in a manner that feels closer to a History Channel reenactment program, yet the intent is for the scenes to have an epic feel, complete with an out-of-place bombastic score.
The opening for example, with Sebastian Knapp as an elderly Apostle John narrating highlights from the Old Testament, unfortunately resembles a ‘previously on…The Bible’ television show introduction.
In addition, Son of God relies too much on the audience’s understanding of the importance of scenes from the New Testament – Peter (Darwin Shaw) being invited to become a fisher of men; Jesus (Diego Morgado) welcoming the tax collector Matthew (Said Bey) into the ranks of his disciples; the merchants trading in the Temple – to bother reinterpreting these sequences for the medium of film in an interesting way.
Instead, there is a pedestrian feel to the majority of the film’s run time. Morgado makes for a warm and charming presence as the Christ, but he is simply too nice, seeming more mildly ticked off at the merchants in the Temple than angry. The screenplay has him suffer frequent visions as his fate at the hands of the Romans and Pharisees approaches, which he reacts to in the manner of a paranormal drama psychic.
Other casting choices for the film give rise to unintentional moments of comedy. The conspicuously Irish Roma Downey (Touched by an Angel) appears as the Virgin Mary, with cosmetically bee-stung lips. Then there’s Shaw as Peter, a Galilean who appears to have been raised north of the Mersey.
However, Matthew Gravelle as Thomas, who recently appeared in the British procedural Broadchurch, impresses with the little he is given to do. Again though, the dramatic sequence between Jesus and Thomas is underplayed. This is largely a story about a man who is simply too polite to be the inspiration for a revolt.
Interestingly the film does position the Pharisees as having broadly understandable motives. Caiaphas (Adrian Schiller) conspires to have Jesus silenced before the end of Passover in order to stop the threat of a revolution against the Roman occupation. To them, Jesus is a potential catalyst for greater suffering for the Jews. Yet the role of agitator largely falls to Barabbas (Fraser Ayres).
The Romans, in turn, are almost cartoonishly evil, with Greg Hicks as Pilate smiling to himself as he watches a massacre of protesters, or slicing open a training opponent’s chest in a fit of pique.
If the Romans had moustaches they would be twirling them, whereas Jesus is depicted as benignly aloof to the point of being bemusedly detached from the events occurring. These extremes of characterisation undercut any potential for narrative momentum.
Futhermore there is a sense that the film-makers behind Son of God have no cinematic vision of their own. The movie noticeably comes alive for the crucifixion sequence, but then Mel Gibson had already provided a visual articulation of that in The Passion.
There is no sense of intimacy in the scenes between the disciples, or in Morgado’s interactions with Downey. Events proceed in a leaden fashion, with a maudlin fatalism dogging the proceedings.
Which gives the impression that Son of God is a film that has no idea what it wants to say about the life of the adult Jesus, beyond reminding the faithful of what took place.