The Passion of the Christ (2004)
Director: Mel Gibson
Cast: Jim Caviezel, Monica Bellucci, Maia Morgenstern
Plot: A film detailing the final hours and crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Genre: Drama / History
Awards: Nom. for 3 Oscars - Best Cinematography, Best Makeup, Best Original Score.
Rating: M18 for sequences of graphic violence.
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
After proudly receiving the Oscar for Best Director and Best Picture for the medieval epic Braveheart (1995), one would be compelled to predict a fruitful career in filmmaking for Mel Gibson.
However, four directed films in thirteen years means that the popular (and controversial) figure of Hollywood is still better known for who he is – an actor with good looks and above average acting skills – than as one of the world’s leading filmmakers.
Gibson returns behind the camera once again for The Passion of the Christ. As the title suggests, it is a film that deals with Jesus Christ. To be precise, the film depicts in excruciating detail the last twelve hours of Jesus’ life.
The word “excruciating” is apt because this is perhaps the most violent and gory picture to receive mainstream distribution before torture porn (Saw, 2004; Hostel, 2005) become a daily staple for cinemagoers shortly after.
Jim Caviezel plays Jesus in an inspired performance that ought to have been rewarded with an acting Oscar nomination. He suffers for his craft, both physically and mentally, as he painstakingly portrays the Son of God as one who bled for the sins of humankind.
The supporting cast is slightly weak for a film of this magnitude, theological-wise, resulting in character relations (such as the Mary/Jesus bond) that are not as emotionally fulfilling as it should.
It takes about thirty minutes for the film to assert its potency, beginning with the capture of Jesus and later, his flogging, and much later and inevitably, his crucifixion.
Prior to all that is a quite lethargic attempt in introducing Jesus and his disciples that ought to be more tightly-paced. However, the next ninety minutes jolts us awake as Gibson recreates the unimaginable ordeal that Jesus suffered at the hands of brutal Roman soldiers.
The uncompromising direction by Gibson is balanced by the film’s cinematography by Caleb Deschanel, which is authentic and a beautiful counterpoint to the ugliness as personified by selfish human beings. The music by John Debney is rightly low-key with little discernible motifs, using mellow strings and choir to accentuate the scenes rather than overwhelm them.
There are short flashbacks inserted during the course and in the context of the film, which either show past events that draw parallels to present circumstances, or prophesize future occurrences that are rooted in the holy scripture that is the Bible. These flashbacks come more as a relief to the bloodletting than as a device to build character development.
The Passion of the Christ cannot be described as skillful filmmaking (there are flaws in pacing and an overuse of the slow-motion technique) but it remains powerful nevertheless.
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