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The Passion Of The Christ

cast: James Caviezel, Monica Bellucci, Maia Morgenstern, Hristo Jivkov, and Francesco De Vito

director: Mel Gibson

127 minutes (R) 2004
Fox NTSC VHS retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Shiraz Rahim
The film that hundreds of Christians had been waiting for... It's the film that several churches believed would bring people to the faith and cause mass conversions to Catholicism. After the release, The Passion Of The Christ became one of the most infamous and unpopular films of the year with its excessively violent scenes depicting the torture and death of Jesus Christ. Even I, who can withstand almost any show of brutality on film, managed to feel queasy after watching this movie, which simply goes to show that The Passion is definitely as violent as critics say.

The film has little more plot than the last few hours of Christ's life. The movie begins with the arrest of Jesus and his subsequent torturing at the hands of the Jews. Jesus is then brought before the Romans and tried for the 'sins' he has committed against the Jewish leaders (namely those of preaching Christianity), and he is eventually sentenced to death by crucifixion. According to my knowledge and inspection of other people's analyses of the film, The Passion follows closely the story of Jesus' last days on earth as written in the King James version of the Bible, but having not read the Bible and knowing little of the story anyway, I am not entirely sure if the depiction in the film is close to the written story. For those who are familiar with the stories of the Bible and the life of Jesus, this film should be easy to understand, but for someone who is not as knowledgeable about Christian history (like me), the film can become rather stymieing.

For the most part, I felt extremely confused and lost in the film as many of the characters are not introduced properly, or if they are, their role in Jesus' life is not fully explained. Mel Gibson, the director (also the star of Braveheart), seems to expect that his audiences will know exactly what he is trying to show and will watch the movie fully prepared with an in-depth knowledge of Jesus' life. Aside from this lack of explanation, Gibson focuses the majority of the movie on showing the brutal torture of Jesus at the hands of the Romans and Jews, leaving the more substantive plot to fill the few parts where Jesus is not being whipped, stoned, or taunted (which add up to roughly being 10 to 30 minutes of the 127 minute feature). Putting aside the depiction of the violence and the extremely bloody scenes that mark most of the film, The Passion holds little substance, and, for the most part, I felt either complete bewilderment at what was happening or mild nausea at the brutality that Jesus suffers.

I will, however, point out one major positive part of the film, namely the flashbacks that line several of the major scenes. Throughout the movie, the characters reminisce about the beginnings of Jesus' movement, the childhood of the 'saviour', and several much more peaceful and pleasant scenes in which Jesus explains some of his ideologies to his followers. These served as nice breaks in seemingly lengthy scenes of violence, and, since they were the only method of telling how Jesus ends up in this predicament, I found them extremely helpful. Unfortunately, these flashbacks do not highlight enough to make the entire film comprehensible, but the parts that they do lighten managed to make them much more tolerable and interesting.

To supplement this, Gibson brings forth a cast of remarkable talent. Jim Caviezel as Jesus was absolutely perfect and entirely convincing, while the performance of Maia Morgenstern as Mary was breathtaking and very commendable. I was so amazed at her ability to display the love and distress of her character's mentality throughout the film that I would place her amongst some of the greatest actresses I've seen in a film, comparable to Julia Roberts or Charlize Theron.

Moving to extras, the film simply does not have any aside from a commentary designed for the visually impaired in which the entire film is read aloud in English (for those unaware, the film's original dialogue is entirely in Hebrew). Obviously, for those looking for extras, this film is most definitely not the way to go.

So, in the end, The Passion Of The Christ turned out to be a film that was very disappointing despite its good intentions. Although Gibson tries to create a gentle portrayal of Jesus and highlight the better parts of his personality and the religion he created, the film becomes stifled with scenes of brutality and confusing plot that will only appeal to those who are familiar with Christian history and willing to endure watching a man's flesh being ripped apart. I was further distraught when Gibson brought forth a movie that had a sub-par plot and mixed it with great acting, making the actors seem all the more worse despite their amazing talents. For those willing to endure the confusing plot and the violence, I recommend a viewing simply for a look at the acting of Caviezel and Morgenstern, but aside from these actors, the film has little to offer.
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