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Thursday, March 13, 2014 12:01 am

Straightforward God an effective Christ-tale


Recognizing that a golden opportunity had fallen in their laps when their The Bible miniseries scored huge ratings on The History Channel, producers Mark Burnett and his wife Roma Downey wisely decided to give their audience more of what they liked. The result is the feature film Son of God, an account of the life of Jesus Christ compiled from footage from the miniseries, as well as additional scenes that were shot exclusively for this feature. What’s surprising is that a movie put together so quickly in order to, let’s be frank, capitalize at the box office, is actually as good as it is. Not as polemic as Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ or graphic as The Passion of the Christ, the film is a straightforward approach to the tale of martyrdom that makes sure not to offend any of its core audience, yet manages to deliver a mildly moving version of the oft-told story.

The movie wastes little time. We witness the birth of the messiah in the manger, who’s quickly visited by three wise men who inform Mary (Leila Mimmack) that her son has big things ahead of him. Soon we see Jesus (Diogo Morgado) as an adult, first convincing Peter (Darwin Shaw) that he has far greater things to do than empty his fishing nets each day, namely help pull together a band of followers who believe in his message of benevolence, good deeds and faith in God. This is a rather easy task. There are many thirsty for Jesus’ message of hope and soon he has such a following that the Roman authorities can’t help but acknowledge them. They’re regarded as a crowd that poses little threat to the powers that be but once a meager supply of fish and bread is stretched far enough to feed 5,000, a crippled man is healed and Lazarus is brought back from the dead, Pilate (Greg Hicks) can’t help but think that his power is in jeopardy in the face of such miracles and something must be done about this modest messiah.

While the film touches upon all of the key moments in the story, it still has a truncated feel to it. One important scene stumbles on the heels of the next and as a result there’s little room for introspection between the characters regarding the momentous events that are occurring. A scene or two in which Jesus pauses to consider the movement he’s started and its implications, or to express a glimmer of doubt (the scene in the garden of Gethsemane is absent), would not only have allowed the audience to connect better with the character, but it would have slowed the pace as well, which the film desperately needs. (It also needed a larger special effects budget. Its long shots of the city of Jerusalem, which are often used to bridge scenes were obviously rendered quickly and on the cheap.)

That being said, there’s no question that the inherent power of the story remains and director Christopher Spencer ably renders some effective moments, the Last Supper being a particularly moving scene among them. Obviously, the success of any production that tackles this tale is dependent on the power of the actor who portrays Jesus. Morgado lacks the charisma the role demands but there’s no doubt he’s an inoffensive messiah who exudes a sense of fellowship and such a laidback vibe that you can understand why the downtrodden would flock to him. This is in keeping with Son of God. It takes few chances in its approach, allowing the power of this story to shine through.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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