I always like to preface reviews of movies like “Joshua”, which is loaded with elements that can rile a person depending on his/her perspective, by stating some facts about myself. I am not Christian, Baptist, or Jewish. In fact, I have a hard time deciphering the difference between the 3. I do know that Jews wear those funny hats, and that Christians used to be lion food during Roman times. But if you were to ask me what’s the difference between a priest, a father, a reverend, and a minister, I couldn’t tell you. (Although I do know that a rabbi is the guy who works in a Jewish church.) The point is, religion isn’t my thing, and if I was really pressed for answers, I would tell you I’m a lapsed Buddhist, with great emphasis on lapsed.
“Joshua” is a modern re-telling of the Jesus Christ mythos set in a small town somewhere in the South. Jesus Christ has been given a new name and is played by Tony Goldwyn (“The Sixth Day”) as the titular character. Since my knowledge of Jesus’ adventures before that unfortunate nailed-to-cross thing at the hands of the Romans is limited at best (actually I can credit TV’s “Touch by an Angel” for pretty much all of my Christianity education), I couldn’t tell you if “Joshua” is a faithful adaptation of the Son of God’s life or not.
The movie opens with Joshua arriving in town and immediately causing a sensation. Joshua lives in a barn, works as a carpenter and sculptor, and besides stirring the townsfolk to rebuild a destroyed Baptist church, he also manages to rile the town’s head priest. (Again, you’ll forgive me if I don’t quite know why a town has a Baptist and a Christian church, or why one church has two priests.) It’s immediately obvious Joshua is not an ordinary fellow, since besides restoring the eyesight of a blind woman, he also brings a local man back to life after a fatal accident.
The pacing of “Joshua” is a little too episodic for my taste, but maybe that’s because the whole budget for the film is probably less than your average episode of the aforementioned “Touch by an Angel.” The cinematography by Bruce Surtees and direction by Jon Purdy seems to bear out that last statement, because “Joshua” is not a very visually complex film. Things are workmanlike in appearance and the acting is average at best, with only standouts belonging to the very reliable Tony Goldwyn as the lead and co-star Kurt Fuller, who plays one of the two priests working at that one church.
What does set “Joshua” apart from your big-budget movie is its heart. There’s no doubt that “Joshua” has a lot of inspiration, and although the film uses very broad strokes to show Joshua’s affects on the townspeople, it can all be forgiven because of the knowledge that the film has its heart in the right place. If anything, I’m surprised the movie is so short at just under 90 minutes of running time. The film is such a breezy tale that I was a bit disappointed it ended so soon, and that not everything I wanted explored got their chance in the spotlight.
Based on a novel by Joseph Girzone, “Joshua” should have been much longer, if just to flesh out more of the townspeople, their problems, and just exactly how Joshua affect each one of them individually. For instance, there’s one entertaining scene where it seems as if Joshua was at multiple places at the same time. This could have been expanded on, as well as the reactions to Joshua’s curing of a blind girl and, later on, his resurrection of a dead man. Everything seemed too rush, too edited. I would have liked more background and follow-through on Joshua’s two “miracles.”
If you were wondering if the film questions rather Joshua is the real deal or if he’s some conman or even a nut masquerading as a miracle worker, you needn’t bother. The film never offers up any worthwhile ambiguity about Joshua’s identity or his motivations. He is the Son of God, reborn as a hitchhiker that’s handy with a hammer and carving knife. The film might have been more entertaining, or at least more complex, if it had attempted to play with Joshua’s identity a little bit more.
The budget for “Joshua” is probably not big enough to feed a Hollywood film crew for half a production day. With that in mind, it’s a wonder they were able to get an actor of Tony Goldwyn’s caliber to participate in the first place, because Goldwyn makes “Joshua”. Co-star Stacy Edwards provides nice eye candy as the emotionally devastated Maggie, a reporter looking for an escape from town and her pain. Like the rest of the townspeople, Maggie finds comfort in Joshua’s presence, and begins to suspect he’s more than he seems.
There’s no doubt that the audience for “Joshua” is Christian moviegoers. The atheist among us would probably be too busy scoffing at the movie’s many themes to remember to be open-minded enough to give the film even a remote chance. It’s interesting to note that with films like “Left Behind” and others, so-called Christian Movies are still a burgeoning genre in its infancy. Right now they’re mostly low-budget ventures, as befitting their small but growing niche, but it will be very intriguing to see what Christian Movies will look like in 5 or 10 years from now, when the producers of such films have Hollywood-size budgets to play with. I see big things ahead.
Jon Purdy (director) / Joseph F. Girzone (novel), Brad Mirman, Keith Giglio (screenplay)
CAST: Tony Goldwyn …. Joshua
F. Murray Abraham …. Father Tardone
Kurt Fuller …. Father Pat Hayes
Stacy Edwards …. Maggie
Jordan Allen …. Michael Reed
Giancarlo Giannini …. The Pope