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The Son of God is a Biblical drama. Starring Diogo Morgado, Amber Rose Rovah, Roma Downey and Greg Hicks. Directed by Christopher Spencer.
It’s no easy task to make an ancient biblical story feel brand-new again. How does one present the life of Jesus Christ — a story that has been told innumerable times in literature, TV and film — in a way that’s fresh and appealing to a younger generation?
Let he who is free of snark cast the first stone on “Son of God,” the rare Christian film to get wide release in the United States.
Jesus of Nazareth’s accent changes frequently, with dialects ranging from 13th century Scottish to 21st century San Diego. Jerusalem looks as if it was built in a few hours out of balsa wood and an X-Acto knife. There appears to be more hair product being used in this movie than in an entire season of “Dancing With the Stars.”
And yet the film does thoroughly succeed in one important regard: offering a coherent, viewer-friendly account of the life of Jesus Christ. The movie flies by despite its 138-minute running time, a holy CliffsNotes that packs in all the
greatest hits. Never again will a Sunday school student get lower than a C-minus on this material.
“Son of God” was the vision of reality show creator Mark Burnett and actress Roma Downey, who plays Jesus’ mother, Mary. It’s built with scenes from their 10-hour History Channel miniseries “The Bible,” plus some material that didn’t make the TV show.
The story begins with a prologue that plays like a “Rocky” sequel montage, covering multiple movies’ worth of material. There’s David and Goliath! Noah building his ark! Moses parting the Red Sea!
Things get better when model and Portuguese soap opera star Diogo Morgado shows up as Jesus. He’s definitely the well-groomed and exfoliated Jesus of children’s picture Bibles, not the gloomier $1 supermarket candle Jesus or the more
feral Scorsese/”Last Temptation of Christ” Jesus. The son of God in “Son of God” would be the best-looking guy in the room at an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog shoot.
But this is the rare case where presence is more important than performance in a role. Morgado shows little range, even when he’s being flogged, crucified and (spoiler alert!) comes back from the dead. The actor commands attention with
swagger, like a young Brad Pitt in “Thelma and Louise.” Burnett and Downey must have picked him based on instinct more than track record, and Morgado was a good choice for this material.
In the age of Blu-ray players and bigger television budgets, “Son of God” scales up with mixed results. Production design and costuming deficiencies in particular are brought into stark relief on the big screen. The shawls are a little too clean, teeth a little too white and straight, and the baskets carrying fish and loaves all look like they came from Cost Plus World Market.
The crucifixion scenes are a bigger success. “Son of God” gets a PG-13 rating solely for its violent moments, which capture the betrayal, brutality and sacrifice of the story without seeming gratuitous. A few heathens laughed out loud at some of the stilted dialogue and awkward directing choices. More audience members were weeping.
If the last big theatrical film about Jesus, the blockbusting The Passion of the Christ, in 2004, sensationalized the violence of the Nazarene’s final hours, Son of God is notable, by contrast, for its missionary spirit, stressing in its climactic moments the duty of believers to spread the word about the savior’s teachings to the world. As such, this quite mediocre spawned-from-television feature feels like a Jesus film designed primarily for true believers, meaning that the faith-based public that has already been put on alert by seal-of-approval-dispensing church leaders that this is a film to see will make the Fox release into a significant heartland attraction, at least at the outset, and then perennially in home viewing situations; others may feel that this is something they’ve already seen, or will wait to see, on TV. Results could also be big in particular foreign territories, starting with South America.
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