The Legend of Tarzan

Nearly 100 years ago, the first (silent) Tarzan film opened—Tarzan of the Apes, starring Elmo Lincoln. Since then, the grand story has been reworked for several generations, the most famous series of films coming in the early-to-mid ‘30s, with the definitive Tarzan, Johnny Weissmuller.

1984’s awkwardly titled Tarzan: The Legend of Greystoke, Lord of the Apes, brought a lean and mean Tarzan in the person of French actor Christopher Lambert, more time spent at the family mansion of Greystoke, and a fascinating first film performance from model Andie MacDowell (Groundhog Day), whose Southern accent was so troublesome that her dialogue was stripped and replaced by an (then) unknown New York actress named Glenn Close.

The combination of political correctness and genuine sensitivity has conspired to challenge the newer Tarzan films to be relevant while being exciting. So now we have the newest Tarzan offering, The Legend of Tarzan. As a rollicking adventure film, it can be enjoyed on that level. But with the casting of brooding actor Alexander Skarsgard, I had high hopes that this would be a smarter, deeper film. Then the first few minutes give us two quick clichés—fine actor Christophe Waltz (Django Unchained, Inglourious Basterds) as the too cool, sharp villain, and the fine actor Djimon Hounsou (Gladiator, Blood Diamond, In America) as an important tribal African chief—and my eyes glazed over just a bit.

The film works hard to place the legend into something of an edgy historical context involved the king of Belgium, the colonial raping of the Congo, and the larger issue of slavery. It never quite gels, and never quite informs the central plot with anything but an awkward push into the narrative. It was exciting at first to find John Clayton (Tarzan/Skarsgard) at home in England in his grand manor with beautiful wife Jane (Margot Robbie, who appears to be able to do anything in terms of acting). But we find him restless, eager to escape the jungle of English society and get back to his African home.

He’s obviously got to get to Africa, which the film manages to do rather quickly after that bumpy beginning. Once there, however, the film is all over the place. There is a plot, of course, but the film ends up (spoiler alert) as another damsel-in-distress film, even while paying some lip service to secondary, minor issues such as national bankruptcy, colonial pillaging, inter-tribal warfare, and the slave market. To be sure, Robbie is hardly the typical weak damsel, but she still has to be rescued by the big guy.

And then there’s Samuel L. Jackson, who simultaneously injects the film with a shoe-horned black presence that is supposed to be meaningful in some way, gives the film its biggest kick, and is wildly, wildly anachronistic in dialogue and tone. I lost track of how many modern quips he made that were, say, 120 years out of their time. While Skarsgard can capture the timeframe of 1890 with ease, and Robbie and Waltz are generic enough in their performances not to stick out, Jackson and his modern presence turn this film into something else–funny and wonderful on some level, but strange at the same time. It’s akin to having Bill Murray show up in a Jane Austen film.

Warning: If you’re as sick of CGI as many others are at the moment, skip this one. Phony ships on phony water, phony jungles, phony apes (so many phony apes!) and phony ostriches in phony races. There are some stunning real vistas, but far too much of the action is captured in that vague, dusky look that is modern CGI.

Skarsgard is a longer, leaner Tarzan than we normally expect, and his moodiness brings a fresh touch. But there’s too much introspection, too much moodiness. His passions are more hidden than they need to be. His connection with Jane, too, is underplayed, and a few of their scenes look cut down from another, more romantic film.

Lastly, there is a daring use of flashback that is praiseworthy in its lack of explanation; we just have to realize, that, oh, here is a flashback that explains…something. It’s a bold move, but doesn’t quite come off as the film keeps going back to his past in the jungle. Perhaps they are trying to cover too much territory and all the jumps back in time don’t quite come together as a whole. Or perhaps, the flashbacks simply pose another rhythm problem for a film already struggling in that department.

Being the newest iteration of the Tarzan myth, the film can be dumb fun. All the boxes are ticked—romance, comeuppance, some significant historical drama (but not too much), and some anachronistic comedy. Set your expectometer down, and you may well have a good time.

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Finding Dory

Finding Dory is…fine. It’s cute. It’s just not Finding Nemo, and that’s its greatest hurdle and biggest lack. It’s impossible to see this film on its own terms, as it, in title, in plot, and in character, depends on the earlier film for its backstory and springboard. It generally wouldn’t be fair to compare the two, except that the film’s raison d’ être is the financial and emotional success of the 2003 film.

The filmmakers are clearly trying to fill the piece with the little pieces of magic that Pixar knows how to do—that little last word in a scene, that final gesture that separates the good from the great in animated films of this kind. And the gags are cute and funny. They’re just not connected well to the rest of the film, and add little to it.

The reasons the shoes of Nemo don’t quite fit Dory are many. First, Pixar has taken the main characters (Nemo and Marlin) and made them supporting characters, and have made the main supporting character the lead. Because Dory was such a part of the success of the first film, it might have made sense to make her the star this time. The greatest success of this decision is what is getting the most press—the issue of disability and how it can be either overcome or seen as a strength. That’s a theme that is at least secondary or tertiary here, and keeps running under the main plot point of an adult trying to find her parents. It’s a delightful color to add under the story; pulling it out as a lesson wrenches the film in a direction that is more mind than heart, a weight this film doesn’t need to begin with.

The emotional center of Finding Nemo was almost too strong—parents in search of their child. If handled indelicately, Nemo might have been gut wrenching. The humor and energy of the forward-moving action kept that “parents’ worst nightmare” aspect of the film in check. But that ache informed the film from beginning to end, and the film resonated with unspoken angst throughout, enriching the whole film. Dory’s switch to the (grown and successful) child finding her parents just doesn’t have the same elemental anguish underneath it. We care—just not as much.

The best decision of the filmmakers was to keep Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Alexander Gould then, Hayden Rolence here) front and center here. Marlin’s dark but realist perspectives helped ground the first film, and do the same thing here, providing the contrast not to a young Nemo, but to a “disabled” Dory. Ellen DeGeneres’s Dory is not the supporting, humorous accent set against a cartoon version of a crisis, but is now the lead, and hence must be less the comic relief than the dramatic center. DeGeneres does well, but the reshaping of the character isn’t quite as successful as it might have seemed on paper.

The film is also darker than its predecessor—not quite The Empire Strikes Back or Godfather II darker, but almost. It’s certainly darker in tone, though less engaging emotionally. It’s also darker visually, with a surprising number of scenes on the grey side. The gorgeous, delightful, colorful ocean surprises that were part of Nemo’s charm aren’t here in the same degree.

We revisit a few of the earlier characters, but the impact of discovery is necessarily missing from Dory, and some of the meet-ups seem perfunctory. The new ones are…fine. There is also the change in set from the wide-open ocean—a source of all kinds of dangers and wonders—to a marine conservatory, which is far more limited in scope, and far less primordial in its dangers. The stakes seem smaller, along with the setting.

Of course the marketing machine that is Disney will make sure this is a huge hit, and most children will love it. For those interested in how to do a sequel, and how not to, this is a great study. Sometimes certain films just fall out of my head once they are over; I must confess that this one occasionally put me to sleep.

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Two Days, One Night (Deux jours, une nuit)

Watching Two Days, One Night was a great antidote to having just seen X-Men: Apocalypse, a dreadful, action-packed, CGI extravaganza (see https://film-prof.com/tag/x-men-apocalypse/). To slip into my teacher mode, Two Days, One Night is a realist film. In a nutshell, that means no fancy camera moves, no background music, no quick editing, no big emotional close-ups or breathtaking epic long shots. It also means long uninterrupted takes, a great sense of space, a heavy dependence on the actors and a sense of power that tends to build slowly rather than in bursts.

I wanted to see the film because of the lead performance by Marion Cotillard, best known on this side of the Atlantic for either winning the Best Actress Award for La Vie en Rose (also known as La Môme)—only one a small handful of foreign-language winners in that category—or for playing Mal in Inception. Her performance in Two Days, One Night was again nominated for Best Actress, and won a slew of other international awards for it.

What I’d forgotten since putting it in my Netflix list was that the film was directed by Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, the modern masters of realist film (L’Enfant, The Kid with the Bike, and producers of Rust and Bone, another film that brought Cotillard great acclaim). In an age of rapid editing (even in good films like the Bourne series) and loud superhero movies, the work of the Dardenne brothers is what we point to to remind ourselves that neorealism didn’t die with Vittoria DeSica, and that when we speak of realism, we don’t just have to point to Bicycle Thief for a great example.

For most modern moviegoers, realist cinema takes some getting used to. Scenes seem to go on much longer than necessary to get a plot point across. Story isn’t the only thing that matters. Big loud events and powerful emotional scenes are scarce. But the accumulating emotional heft these films carry can often go much deeper into the mind and heart than more formalist films. Looking back to 2007, my two favorite films of that year were Ratatouille and 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, a devastating Romanian film that might have been the most powerful film of that year. (Yes, I agree that’s a strange combination of favorite films.) Realist films are a whole different experience for those used to our energetic, story-driven films, but the good ones are well worth the investment.

Once I settled in for a realist experience, I sat back to enjoy Cotillard. Her stellar performance here is light years away from her intense, flashy and technically brilliant Oscar-winning turn as Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose. Here she plays Sandra, a just-out-of-depression factory worker who is presented with a devilish work situation: her co-workers can vote for either a much-needed bonus for each of them, or they can vote to bring Sandra back to work. She and her husband are dependent upon her salary, so she spends her weekend trying to convince her co-workers to vote in her favor. That’s it—that’s the plot. But as in most realist films, the plot really isn’t the main point, though the film builds in intensity as the characters get down to the wire. Sandra is not always likable, though always sympathetic. Cotillard inhabits the character deeply and internally. There are no star turns, and the furniture remains unchewed. Though there are significant actions, there are no “big moments.” But her underplaying and soft grace notes make the ending that much more impacting.

The many visits to co-workers give a lot of actors a moment to either make or break the film. Most visits are logical, and the reactions—both positive and negative—are played believably. There is one emotional moment that earns its feelings, but there is another one (spoiler alert) that becomes a subplot that is played too hard and results in too dramatic a life change. But they are woven together well at the end in a way that is satisfying on several levels.

Cotillard is simply one of the greats working today, and her American films simply don’t reflect her talent. Try this one, then try La Vie en Rose, and realize once more what excellent acting can look like.

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X-Men Apocalypse

The newest X-men offering is pretty terrible. Its estimated $178 million dollar budget is a tragic waste, as is the 2.5 hours of time anyone gives to it. I’m sure there are lessons to be learned at some point, but the only lesson for viewers now is to stay away—you’ve been warned.

Where do I start? The script is a mess. The story is essentially the Mummy meets the Mutants. Right off the start, it feels old and derivative—move on, nothing to see here. Though there is a through line to the story, you’d hardly know it, with so many subplots (if they are worthy of the name) and enough climaxes to fill an entire franchise of films. If this is a reboot, it only works on paper.

The only actor we could care about is Nicholas Hoult’s Hank/Beast. If he’d been at the center of the story throughout, the film might have had a heart and a chance. But then they turn him blue and put him on the sidelines. The loss is palpable if you’re still paying attention. A talented actor (Warm Bodies, Jack the Giant Slayer, Mad Max: Fury Road), his presence proves that he can carry a film by himself if given the right material.

Many of the other actors are first-rate, and sorely underserved by script and direction. Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy, two of England’s best young artists, try their best in each individual scene, but there is no context created that places that effort into a whole that makes sense out of their hard work. It seems more of a challenge to create a believable world for the Avengers than for the X-men, yet the new Captain America film did it well. Here, everyone and every plotline is so scattered that these fine actors are doing their best in a vacuum. Even Hollywood- and Oscar-favorite Jennifer Lawrence, while not exactly phoning it in, is, shall we say, capable of higher heights. Oscar Isaac—well, we will just concentrate on Star Wars and politely forget about this.

And some of the lines these poor folks have to say! Corny and platitudinous doesn’t even come close. And why, (spoiler alert), oh why, did the producers bother shoehorning Wolverine in for a meaningless and distracting cameo?

I’m not particularly an X-men fan, and only see films like this because I teach film and feel I have to keep up on some of the more popular franchises. The Avengers films are generally stronger, funnier, and far more touching and meaningful than the X-Men series. This one, though, is a reboot on a par with the most recent Fantastic Four attempt. Not worth either your time or reading another word about it.

 

 

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Captain America: Civil War

Captain America: Civil War is overstuffed and not quite believable in its central concept. It’s also the best Avengers movie since the first one.

It does right what the first one does, on steroids. It was a small cinematic miracle in the The Avengers that gave all the characters (and the stars playing them) enough time to round out their identities and superpowers onscreen. It also contained a powerful message about the dynamics of disunity and the power of overcoming those dynamics. So does this film.

Captain America: Civil War packs a great many additional characters into the plot, almost enough to capsize the entire enterprise. But with a strong central grouping of key characters followed by the gradual introduction of other characters—some familiar and some new—the film manages to feature a large variety of superheroes that gives each his/her moment to shine, and somehow figures out a way to fold them into the plot without awkwardly shoehorning them in.

The central conflict, which nearly everyone knows by now, is around the UN control of the Avengers, who have acquired the reputation of dangerous vigilantes who, without proper oversight, are a law unto themselves, and a group that causes just too much collateral damage while saving the world. The two key leaders of the sides are Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.). The ultimate division of the two groups around the issue is presented logically, but almost comes up as more of a writers’ scenario (“Let’s get them fighting each other like we did in the first film, but more around an issue and less on personalities…”) than an organic development. But only a small suspension of disbelief is necessary, and the arguments are still clear and cogent.

Without going into unnecessary detail on how the groups manage to square off, the film presents scenarios and arguments that can be read in any number of ways. So the film becomes a possible metaphor for:

  • Our current election season
  • America’s role in the world and its perception by other countries
  • Freedom vs. security
  • What it means to be a friend
  • The dangers of globalism, especially in the political realm
  • The naiveté and occasional useless of political leaders
  • And much more

In all these issues, always resting under the narrative and personalities, this superhero film is one of the most thoughtful and stimulating films of the year, addressing or at least stirring up issues that more deliberately provocative dramatic films or documentaries tend to overstate or contort. And all this from a summer superhero blockbuster.

As in most of the Marvel films, the acting is top-notch throughout. The casting of talented actors who don’t phone in their performances is one of the strengths of current superhero films, and we only have a go back a few decades to see how far we’ve come.

One particular strength of the film is the pace and cutting of the action scenes, some of the best of the genre. (Pay attention, Mr. Nolan—plenty to learn here). The action scenes are energetic, not confusing, fast-paced but clear in action, and contain intelligent and not overdone sound editing that enhances and doesn’t distract. Instead of being set pieces that pull apart from the rest of the film, they fit snugly into the narrative and feel of the rest of the film. (Mr. Snyder—plenty to learn here.)

One clear goal—and success—of the first Avengers film was to find a place for all these disparate heroes. The goal is the same in this film, but adds another marketing goal of introducing, or reintroducing, others heroes of the Marvel universe to continue some success, bring in a newbie, or jumpstart a reboot. The most successful introduction is Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), who is brought in gradually and logically, and then fit neatly into the plot. Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) brings a welcome comic presence, but is rather forced in unnaturally and unconvincingly, though the writers have worked him into the plot as well. The clear reboot intentions are around the new Spider-Man (Tom Holland), who is brought in late, but who is given a strong presence, a real place in the plot, and a chance to be funny and juvenile in a way that adds delight to the fight scenes.

The journey in some films from principle to “this time it’s personal” can be groan-inducing. Here, the writers manage to do it with our two central characters that are pitted against one another—Captain America and Iron Man—in a way that makes sense. The main argument about oversight eventually is complicated by a plot revelation that actually means something to the central ideological conflict, and by the time we get to the last major fight scene, the film has found a way to focus the final tensions between these two characters in a way that works.

Other thoughts:

  • Any film that features Marisa Tomei has automatically improved itself. If she is the new Aunt May to Holland’s Spider-Man, this is going to be a stronger reboot than it might have seemed.
  • Elizabeth Olsen still doesn’t seem to have found her character, Scarlet Witch, in the same way everyone else has found theirs.
  • We miss The Hulk, Loki, and Thor.
  • Daniel Bruhl as the “bad guy” is neither small and sniveling enough in the Peter Lorre mold nor large and authoritative enough in the Loki-Darth Vader mold to have his character work completely. A fine actor, he’s just not exuding the right stuff here.
  • The in-jokes are plenty and funny. “Help me, Wanda”—seriously?

The film starts off rather slowly and allows the people and ideas to sink in before moving into the central conflict. The film has some of the coolness of Captain America: The Winter Soldier without that film’s paranoid detachment, and combines that with clear struggles and understandable actions (and action sequences). Once the grosses begin to recede and the superhero nerds (not a term of derision) have moved on, expect that this film will receive more attention and analysis from the more serious critics and thinkers who will discover, some surprisingly, the depth and complexity of the film and its themes.

 

 

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The People v. O.J. Simpson

Sometimes current television is not just better, but so much better, than films playing in the theater. A case in point: “The People v. O.J. Simpson: An American Crime Story,” playing on, of all places, FX. Like the original case itself, the current mini-series will always be a kind of Rorschach test. It will be accused of being too hard on O.J., too soft on him, and racist in one direction or another. But no matter what your opinion is on O.J.’s guilt or innocence, the 10-part series is well worth the watch (Be warned: there is occasional R-rated language).

It’s directed by Ryan Murphy, the creator of Glee, Nip/Tuck, American Horror Story, and Scream Queens. He’s been working a more mainstream route of late, having directed the film version of Eat, Pray, Love and The Normal Heart. “The People vs. OJ Simpson” could, and perhaps would, have benefited from a cooler, less candy-coated visual style. But the quick pacing, editing and camerawork take what could have been a large-scale version of a crime procedural like “Law and Order” and keeps the story moving, even when the trial is stopped or slowed again and again by unforeseen events.

But what really stands out are the focus and the acting. The focus is not on OJ. It’s on Marcia Clark, the head prosecutor. It’s her story, and on paper that sounds like a bad choice. On the contrary, it makes the whole series come alive. Part of the reason for that is the script, which balances the personal with the procedural. The other, bigger, reason is the Emmy-deserving performance of Sarah Paulson as Clark. She is strong, weak, funny, edgy, and completely sympathetic. Paulson doesn’t miss a beat and imbues her character with so much life that she constantly keeps us focused on her and keeps us happy to have her as the center of the drama.

Courtney B. Vance as Johnnie Cochran is excellent as the self-centered, talented, defense lawyer only concerned with winning. I would have put him as the second-best actor in the series after Paulson save for the exceptional work done by Sterling K. Brown as the second counsel, Christopher Darden, who worked alongside Marcia Clark. His performance is as introverted as Vance’s is extraverted, but it’s a star-making turn, fully lived. The sparks between him and Paulson (in more ways than one) are palpable, and they are a delight to watch together. In some ways, Darden, compared to Cochran, is the most difficult character to play well, and another actor might have lost his way with Clark, Vance and the others chewing the scenery around him. Brown doesn’t let that happen for a second.

One of the reasons this got made was the production presence of John Travolta, which of course was tied to his performing a role. Here he plays peacock Robert Shapiro as an effete dandy who clearly thinks the world of himself. It’s an “interesting” acting choice, but one that tends to stick out and not always in the best ways. In a similar manner, Nathan Lane’s F. Lee Bailey isn’t quite on the money, either, as his character has a more serious center than Lane is able to locate. Kenneth Choi as Judge Ito and the ever-reliable Bruce Greenwood as Gil Garcetti are solid, if nothing else.

The two question marks are David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian, who struggles more and more with the evidence against his good friend. Schwimmer has the advantage of looking something like Kardashian, and his hangdog “charm” helps him as he draws us into his internal conflicts. (Of course it’s a guilty pleasure to see his children pre-fame.)

The biggest acting weakness is Cuba Gooding, Jr. as OJ.. For one, he is nowhere near as physically imposing as OJ, which removes the strong element of his power and strength. Gooding is also at heart an actor we connect with, enjoy, and generally sympathize with. If that were the goal, it might work. But the rest of the show connects us with his guilt and Marcia Clark’s point of view. Like Denzel Washington in Training Day, (and I know I’m in the minority here), Gooding simply doesn’t have the internal scary wickedness necessary for the part. We should be uneasy in his scenes; we’re not. He tries hard, and pulls out all the tricks he has in his arsenal. But it’s not enough, and the clash between actor and character renders him as something of an undefined presence in the piece. It’s the one real weakness in the program.

Of course you know the ending. That doesn’t matter, as this provides information and perspectives that reconstruct the case in the viewer’s mind. We all knew how Titanic ended as well, but a lot of people thought that movie worth seeing, many more than once. “The People vs. OJ Simpson” is easily that exciting, and far more important to our understanding of American justice, race, grandstanding, manipulation, and celebrity.

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Risen

Risen is a fascinating film in what it gets right, and its major strength is its main weakness.

It’s the story of Clavius (Joseph Fiennes), a Roman tribune assigned to find Jesus’ dead body after it’s been assumed that his followers have stolen it. It’s in the tradition of The Robe, Barabbas, and of course, the all-time Oscar champ, Ben-Hur. It’s the Christ story from the perspective of the unbeliever.

What’s near-impossible to do in this cynical age is to present something clear, especially if it has to do with faith. The film, without any degree of “preaching to the choir,” presents the story that the Bible lays out: Jesus was crucified, buried, and rose again. Some of the political and religious leaders of the day conspired to promote the story that Jesus’ body was simply stolen, and that he never rose at all. Yet he appeared, especially to his disciples, several times, and was ultimately taken to heaven after giving them a commission to go out and make disciples. It’s all there. It’s not presented mysteriously, nor is it presented in a way that could be read any number of ways. According to the film, these things occurred.

Of course that makes the film something of a Rorschach test. As a believer, I was choked up several times at the depiction of events that resonate intellectually and emotionally. Those who don’t believe these things occurred historically may find the same scenes foolish, or perhaps borderline cheesy—though the film keeps any possible cinematic cheese to a minimum.

Risen’s strength is that it’s somewhat objective and straightforward in its presentation of Jesus and his actions. This isn’t the soft haze of a De Mille classic, or the rousing orchestral strings of a mid-50’s epic. Since historical truth is at the center of the main character’s quest—What really happened with Jesus after he died?—the film takes pains to present events with a kind of casual realism.

The film is more PG Son of God than R-rated Passion of the Christ, and the presentation of violence is worthy of study by other filmmakers. There is a great deal more violence suggested than actually presented, a rare triumph for any film attempting this. While not reducing the significance of the Biblical events depicted, the film also keeps a lid on the traditional religious visual and aural trappings associated with powerful Biblical events and keeps things relatively simple and direct, and at something of a cool distance. Director Kevin Reynolds (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Waterworld, and TV’s Hatfields & McCoys) hasn’t done a feature in a decade, and shows he still has the ability to present a strong narrative in a place and time different from our own.

While the cinematic distance works, and works well, for the depiction of miracles and other spiritual manifestations, it doesn’t work as well for the main story. This is the story of a military man searching for the truth, [spoiler alert], beginning with deep cynicism and ending up believing. Fiennes (Shakespeare in Love) can be an intense and deeply emotional actor. He’s always the former here, but isn’t allowed to be the latter. Of course, as a military man, his character is self-contained and personally disciplined. But as he continues his spiritual journey, we are kept at the same cool distance as we are from the miracles. We are allowed to see his story, but not get deeply involved in it. Many times the camera is at a distance that shows us the ancient buildings and strengthens the sense of place, but that same distance keeps us watching Clavius instead of identifying with him. Fiennes is capable of the emotional moments necessary to do that, but the script and direction keep him at a distance from us.

The disciples are generally presented well, with one exception. Batholomew (Stephen Hagan) is shown as something of a goofy early-‘70s hippie. And while enthusiasm and joy are understandable in context, this interpretation is just too much. It ventures into Bartholomew and Jesus’ Excellent Adventure territory.

The depiction of Jesus, however, is a small miracle (pun intended). The casting finally eschews the traditional American vision and gives us an actor who is very similar to what current anthropologists think Jesus might have looked like. He is subdued, but strong. There is more Jesus here than in Ben-Hur, and less than in Passion of the Christ. Jesus is a supporting character within the film, and that cool distance that the film brings to the miracles extends to the presentation of Jesus. There is a great challenge in presenting Christ as the Son of God, and the film generally succeeds there. He is holy, to be sure, but as real as he is holy.

There is one great moment in the film, and it may be the most successful in connecting good filmmaking with the heart of the faith story we’re experiencing. (Skip this paragraph if you’re going to see the film.) Clavius has been looking for Jesus’ disciples, hoping that he’ll eventually find out the plot to kidnap the body, locate it, and get Pilate off his back. In one of his searches, he breaks into a room of hiding disciples, and we feel a combination of success (he found what he was looking for!) and dread (oh, no, the disciples have been discovered!). Then as Clavius looks around the room at the strange faces, he eventually comes upon one he recognizes, the man he saw dead on the cross just a few days before. It’s a stunning, lovely moment, with equal parts discovery and disbelief—the perfect beginning of a serious journey of faith.

The film could use more connection with its main character. But what it gets right outweighs what it lacks. It’s a valuable contribution to the genre of the religious film and in parts, an excellent demonstration of how to present the impossible.

 

 

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