Movie Review #722
Directed by Christopher Spencer. Writers: Richard Bedser, Christopher Spencer, Colin Swash, Nic Young. Produced by Richard Bedser, Mark Burnett, and Roma Downey for Hearst Entertainment Productions and LightWorkers Media. Starring Sebastian Knapp, Greg Hicks, Diogo Morgado, Darwin Shaw, Amber Rose Revah, Matthew Gravelle, Joe Wredden, Paul Marc Davis, Rick Bacon, Fraser Ayres, Said Bey, Adrian Schiller, Paul Brightwell, Simon Kunz, Sanaa Mouziane, Anas Chenin, Roma Downey, Daniel Percival, Noureddine Aberdine, and Idrissa Sisco. Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation in wide release on February 28, 2014. Rated PG-13: intense and bloody depiction of The Crucifixion, and for some sequences of violence. Runs 138 minutes.
“Son of God” is director Christopher Spencer’s way overblown attempt to make a Biblical epic. The paradox here is that it’s so exaggerated that we can see why the Ghost of Cecil B. DeMille might wish to rise from the grave to take the reins on this project, but its exaggeration is so pitiful that we can also imagine that DeMille might wish to cometh anew simply to empty his bowels upon the script. Let me give you an example. There’s no doubt that this director wants to cover several years. I mean, yeah, that’s from the fact that he’s trying to make an epic, but look at the beginning of the movie. We get such short snippets of Noah, Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon, Saul, whoever, that the first five minutes just seems like a trailer for History’s miniseries The Bible. I didn’t watch The Bible when its ten episodes were on television, but from all the rave that one got, I’m so surprised to see how poorly its apparent followup, “Son of God” , turned out.
Am I mincing words? Apologies, I’ll be more direct here. “Son of God” is a very preachy Sunday School lesson. And it’s more of that than it is a movie. Not so surprisingly, this feels more like a TV movie. Way to follow up The Bible miniseries, but come on, a theatrical release? It’s got poor marketing, among a lot else that’s equally poor. I guess there is a plus. If you’re one of those people who reads books and then sees the movie right after, then ends the world over the fact that the movie wasn’t faithful enough, this two-and-a-half hour feature is pretty darn faithful to the Books of the Gospels.
I wouldn’t advocate calling “Son of God” a terrible movie so readily as I would support calling it an amusingly bad movie. All right, it is terrible, but hey, I was entertained. How can one not be entertained by a movie that earns more laughs than many modern comedies? Just watch Jesus and his disciples converse like they’re modern Americans, in their proper Australian/British accents that we stereotypically associate with movies that want to be, uh, legendary-like. Every “yep,” “doin’,” “goin’,” “ya,” and the pronunciation of “brother” like “bruthah”–it’s all terrifically funny. (I just kinda wished they’d gone into “oi” and “mate.” I’d be clapping and jubilantly choking on my popcorn.)
It’s not just the script or the director’s choice not to direct the actors. The acting had me laughing pretty hard, though I have to admit, I was kind of saddened that the worst actor was saved for the beginning: a Magi. Or a wiseman, but surely not in the performing field. I’ll give Amber Rose Revah a hand for her half-decent performance as Mary Magdelene. She looks like Sandra Bullock, and she’s not just a lookalike. She’s basically Sandra Bullock minus the Oscar win.
Enough fun and games, though. The casting choices are rather confusing. There’s one disciple who we can tell apart from the rest of the bunch, and that’s because he’s bald. Everyone else looks the same. The story is narrated by Peter, but I had to really think back to the beginning to place which one was him. They’re all just roundheaded men with curly hair and large beards. It wasn’t until Judas killed himself (which, in this rendition, seems pretty sudden and unexplainable) that I realized which of these guys was Judas.
Jesus is identifiable though. He’s the one who appears and draws up a thought like, “Jesus, trim your hair! You look like you’re Jared Leto.” It’s safe to say that if he was, we’d have a good performance. The depiction of Jesus is not as a man who we want to follow, and again, Peter narrates this story, so that’s rather odd. What makes it odder is that he’s, in fact, depicted as a pompous asshole. Yeah, it’s a pretty unconvincing role Jesus has.
Maybe I shouldn’t settle with Peter narrates “Son of God” . He details the whole movie. As in, it’s not about Jesus, so much as it is about Peter’s yearning to be like Jesus. Maybe a better title is Guy Who Wanted to Be Son of God. The way Darwin Shaw acts out these aspirations are rather amusing. It’s like watching a little kid try and become Superman, particularly at the end when Peter tries to reenact the Last Supper. Hey wait, isn’t reenacting the Last Supper sacrilege? How come Peter lived?
Not everything is terrible about “Son of God” . A great deal of it is, but that’s only leading up to the finale. Even if it’s not enough of the movie to make it all that memorable, “Son of God” improves drastically in acting, camerawork, and direction near the end. The one absolutely cinematic sequence in the whole thing is when the depiction of Jesus’s 40 lashes (we see 14) is juxtaposed with Judas’s suicide. Yeah, this is the Crucifixion, and it’s quite a way of showing it to us. The PG-13 “Son of God” received puzzles me so much. This is just barely less bloody than “The Passion of the Christ”, as I remember that one. In fact, if there’s one thing that reduces theater walkouts and saves the custodian from having to clean up vomit off the floor, it’s the camerawork. The sequence lasts maybe twenty minutes, and we cut away only from the most bloody. As in, just don’t show Jesus’s hands or feet when they nail him to the cross. Come to think of it, forget what I said about not having to walk out of the theater. “Son of God” is unintentionally funny and all that, but that’s not exactly a good thing when it’s overlong and covers religion, which is nothing if it isn’t a serious subject matter. If I were anything but a film critic, I would have strolled right out and demanded my money back.
SON OF GOD IS IN THEATERS.