How do you film perfection? How does a filmmaker trap genius on celluloid? Anyone wanting to know the answers to these questions should contact Mel Gibson. His film “The Passion of the Christ” is not only the greatest religious drama ever filmed, but also a captivating artistic triumph.
The film brings to life a story that a great many people are familiar with — the last hours of Jesus Christ before his crucifixion. The movie opens with an emotionally tortured Christ (James Caviezel) in the Garden of Gethsemane, shows his betrayal by Judas, the trial that follows, and concludes with his inevitable death. This is all familiar ground to most, and as a result it is redundant to cover them again in any depth here. It is a tale told numerous times before, yet it has never been told like this.
James Caviezel (“The Thin Red Line”) is riveting as an accessible messiah, choosing not to portray Jesus as a pious and emotionless savior as others have. Mr. Caviezel’s interpretation of Jesus is down to Earth, and his Christ feels terror at what is to come and the agony of the tortures inflicted upon him. Caviezel gives Christ a loving and compassionate side, and conveys a sense that the horror he must endure is for a greater good. Hristo Shopu as Pontius Pilate turns in another outstanding performance. Shopu resists the temptation to play his character as a one-dimensional villain; instead Pilate is a man torn between his conscience and the fear of a violent uprising if he frees Jesus. As a result the character ceases to be evil, but simply weak at a crucial moment.
Even Passion plays must have Satan, and Rosalinda Celentanos makes an impressionable one here. While she has few lines, seeing her pale face skulking in the background lends an air of menace to the film. Possibly the most heartbreaking performance comes from Maia Morgenstern as Christ’s mother. She can do little but bear witness to the atrocities inflicted upon her beloved son. Morgenstern brings into existence a powerful image of a mother helpless to save her son.
The screenplay by Benedict Fitzgerald and Mel Gibson closely follows what has been written in the New Testament, and manages the impressive feat of bringing those words to life by making the characters human. These people experience anger, anguish, guilt, fear and confusion. Depicting them as people with strengths and flaws make the story that much more believable.
The realism is further enhanced by the efforts of costume designer Maurizio Millenotti. Unlike other Bible films, where characters were impeccably clean and groomed, the populace of “The Passion” looks like they belong in this particular time period. Their clothes aren’t always perfectly laundered and their hair and beards aren’t always perfectly kept. They have the appearance of common people caught up in an extraordinary event. The musical score by John Debrey is appropriately somber and reverential, exactly what is needed for this type of film. John Wright edits the film tightly, with no wasted scenes or lulls in the picture. Caleb Deschanl’s cinematography is gorgeous, and whether using long shots or close ups, his work is always terrific to look at.
But the highest praise must go to director/co-producer/co-writer Mel Gibson (“Braveheart”). It is evident that he has put his heart and soul into every frame of the movie, and created not only a strong message of faith, but also an amazing artistic accomplishment. He gives the film such a quick pace that you dare not take your eyes off the screen for fear of missing something important. Mr. Gibson coaxes fantastic performances from his actors and manages the impressive feat of making two hours seem like fifteen minutes.
“The Passion of the Christ” has been condemned as anti-Semitic, which is the worst form of nonsense. Jewish people in the film are depicted as supporting Christ and being against his arrest, not to mention the obvious fact that Christ himself was Jewish. His mother and the apostles were also Jewish as well. The informed moviegoer should not take this criticism seriously.
On the other hand, the level of violence, while not as brutal as reported, is still very significant, particularly in the film’s second half. This is certainly not a film for young children, or for the very sensitive or impressionable. But those who enjoy a finely crafted film will find what they’re seeking in “The Passion of the Christ”.
Mel Gibson (director) / Benedict Fitzgerald, Mel Gibson (screenplay)
CAST: James Caviezel …. Jesus
Monica Bellucci …. Magdalene
Claudia Gerini …. Claudia Procles
Maia Morgenstern …. Mary