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Thursday, Feb. 26, 2004 05:23 pm

Movie review

The Passion of the Christ

Jesus, the Lethal Weapon version

Few films have generated as much pre-release fervor as Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, a cinematic lightning rod that's been labeled anti-Semitic and challenged for its excessively violent depiction of the last 12 hours of Jesus Christ's life.

The criticisms are warranted.

In their defense, Gibson and co-screenwriter Benedict Fitzgerald say their script is drawn from the four Gospels. But theirs is a selective reading. For example, each of the Gospels briefly mentions the scourging Jesus was forced to endure, but this becomes the focal point of Passion, a nearly unendurable 10-minute sequence in which Jesus is cut to ribbons. The gore continues in the long trek to Golgotha and during the crucifixion, replete with shots of blood squirting or raining down from his wounds. Equally exaggerated is the film's portrayal of Jews: They're presented as a rage-filled, angry mob and the inclusion of the sympathetic Simon at the end does nothing to negate this harsh portrayal.

Unlike Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ, in which the suffering Jesus endures is of a psychological and emotional nature, the sacrifice Gibson's Jesus makes is purely physical. The violence to which he is subjected is portrayed to the point of being gratuitous and manipulative. As a consequence, Passion is more likely to elicit feelings of extreme sorrow and anger than charity and love.

Be that as it may, Gibson is a master filmmaker who uses every cinematic tool at his disposal to present a vividly realistic vision of the ancient world. Passion is enriched by gorgeous cinematography by Caleb Deschanel, who draws on Caravaggio for inspiration, and a marvelous cast led by Jim Caviezel, who gives a heroic and transcendent performance as Jesus.

What other critics are saying. . .

Club Dread [R] A serial killer interrupts the fun at Club Dread, an island paradise for swingers. ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights [PG-13] An American girl and her parents show up in Cuba just before the Revolution. She meets a local Cuban guy who recognizes her dancing ability. The dilemma: Will she stay or will she go? ShowPlace West

The Fog of War [PG-13] A documentary about the career of former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, who served during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and who was a key architect of the escalation of the war in Vietnam. Parkway Pointe Art

Twisted [R] Jessica (Ashley Judd) portrays a police detective who finds herself at the center of an investigation after all her past lovers start dying off. To add to the drama, Jessica's dad was a serial killer. "Characters get distorted and motivations warped in this police thriller in order to keep bodies piling up and clues pointing in all directions." (Kirk Honeycutt, Hollywood Reporter) ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

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