With Diogo Morgado, Amber Rose Revah, Sebastian Knapp, Greg Hicks, Darwin Shaw. Written by Richard Bedser, Christopher Spencer, Colin Swash, Nic Young. Directed by Christopher Spencer. Rated PG-13 for intense and bloody depiction of The Crucifixion, and for some sequences of violence. 138 minutes.
According to Islamic tradition, the Prophet Mohammad may not be depicted, period. This is why in the 1977 film “Mohammad, Messenger of God” never shows him or most of his family, and the central character played by Anthony Quinn as the prophet’s uncle. If only Christianity had a similar tradition, we might be spared many bad movie depictions of Jesus.
Instead, we get SON OF GOD, which was edited from the History Channel’s miniseries “The Bible,” which tells the story of Jesus as depicted in the Christian Bible. What it amounts to is a clunky retelling of the New Testament’s greatest hits, as we wait for the key miracles and lines from the arrival of the Magi to the “doubting” of the apostle Thomas. It’s hard to imagine this appealing to anyone except devout Christians and/or lovers of cheesy Bible epics, because as a narrative, it is not very good.
Jesus is played by Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado as a cult leader. He demands belief and faith of his followers, but–per the text–offers little in the way of explanation. If one accepts him as the Messiah, then one simply follows. If one does not, it gets a bit creepy.
It’s difficult to review the acting. Biblical epics tend either to be all-star productions (as in the ludicrous “The Greatest Story Ever Told”) or, as here, populated by unknowns. Greg Hicks gives the film’s campiest performance as Roman governor Pontius Pilate, looking as if he began every scene by sucking on a lemon. It’s often hard to tell the apostles apart, while the Jewish leaders seem to be an ahistorical mix of Pharisees (the rabbis who were independent of the temple), the Sadducees (the temple priesthood which at that point was largely controlled by the Roman conquerors), and a military force under the control of the High Priest.
The film maintains the New Testament’s propaganda against the Pharisees. When the Gospels were written a couple of centuries after the events they purport to depict, the Sadducees (and the Temple) were gone, and so the Pharisees were the rivals of the leaders of the competing faith. That one has to get into such historical and theological issues says more about the film’s agenda than anything else. As with Mel Gibson’s “The Passion Of The Christ,” the Jews are clearly the ones guilty for Jesus’s death, even depicting the high priest Caiaphas threatening Pilate that Caesar will blame him if Jesus remains loose and stirring up trouble. For Christians, this is part of their Biblical text with which they must grapple and either reinterpret or else bear the responsibility for the centuries of Christian attacks on Jews. That the Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman has reportedly given this film his blessing indicates that his announced retirement next year can’t come soon enough.
Perhaps there’s no way to tell the story of Jesus on film that will please everyone, since Christians and non-Christians will inevitably view the events through different lenses. (As might be apparent, this reviewer is not a Christian.) The flaws of “Son Of God” may be ignored by those for whom the film is a religious experience, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t there.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.