Son of God

The life of Jesus of Nazareth (Diogo Morgado), his teachings, his disciples Peter (Darwin Shaw), John (Sebastian Knapp), Thomas (Matthew Gravelle), the traitor Judas (Joe Wredden) and the rest of his closest followers are chronicled from the gathering of his flock to the Sermon on the Mount, clashes with the Pharisees to the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension into Heaven.
“Son of God” is a repackaging of scenes from the Bible miniseries that was shown on the History Channel.  Consequently, the film has a sometimes grainy, sometimes cheap look that is a product of taking a TV show and blowing it up on the big screen.  CGI is used to recreate some scenes and buildings and it also looks cheap and unfinished.  The film is edited in a choppy fashion that tends to cause very jumpy storytelling.  Sudden bursts of emotion tend to come when the previous line of dialog doesn’t require it.  All of the film’s shortcomings stem from being a cut-down version of a TV show.  That doesn’t mean there’s nothing good about it.
The film has been made with an obvious reverence and love for the source material.  True believers will find the film moving and uplifting.  The crowd I was with seemed locked to the events on-screen (aside from the one woman in front of me who was checking her phone every few minutes) and there were more than a few sniffles coming from the audience during the torture and crucifixion scenes.  Sadly, true believers are probably all that will ever see the movie as the promotion of the film has been largely to churches in an effort to get large group ticket sales.  The producers, “Survivor” creator Mark Burnett and his wife actress Roma Downey, are hoping word of mouth will broaden the film’s appeal.  I doubt that will work as church folk tend to be friends with other church folk so the message will stay within a group that is most likely to see the film anyway.  The marketing should have followed Christ’s example and been targeted to the sinners rather than the saints.
Actor and model Diogo Morgado is given the unenviable job of portraying the title character.  Actors who are tasked with this role often are in a no-win situation:  They either are criticized for playing the part too soft and ethereal or they face condemnation for taking a chance with the role.  Morgado takes the former route and tends to have a smile on his face and a warm caress for the face of a follower as he moves through a crowd.  There are a few surprises in his performance such as when he hugs Peter after the Last Supper and sees his main disciple will deny him three times in a vision.  For the most part, Morgado plays the role as many have before.  He’s not allowed to take any chances or inject any life into this character that is supposed to be both man and God.
There’s really not much life to be had in many of the performances in “Son of God.”  All the villains are simply defined and lack any characteristics other than evil.  The followers of Christ are unquestioning zealots who only express an opposing viewpoint when the story demands some minor level of conflict.  Granted, the Bible doesn’t offer a great deal of information on the interpersonal relationships and workings of the disciples but there must be some scholarly research that could be used as a base from which to build three-dimensional characters.  “Son of God” isn’t a heavily researched examination of Christ and the disciples but more of a greatest hits compilation of miracles and events.
My biggest reservation about the film has nothing to do with the movie itself but with the producer.  Mark Burnett has made a fortune from the creation of reality competition shows that reward the players who exhibit the worst characteristics.  “Survivor” encourages back-stabbing and lying in order to whittle the group of contestants down to the last two.  The competition is hardly based on what could be called a Christian example.  Also, the idea of editing a very successful TV show down into a movie instead of making a new film with better sets, CGI and actors seems like a rather cynical cash grab.  The story was already shot so all that was necessary was bringing in an editor to cut it down from about five hours to just over two hours.  Burnett has more than enough money (which in Hollywood means power) to partner with a studio and create a new product that would spread the message of Christ in a better way.  Instead, he takes something that already exists and repackages it in a new format and sells tickets to something most of his audience could have seen for the price of a month of basic cable and that strikes me as questionable.
“Son of God” is rated PG-13 for intense and bloody depiction of The Crucifixion, and for some sequences of violence.  While not nearly as graphically violent as “The Passion of the Christ,” the film does show Jesus being whipped and having the crown of thorns shoved down on his head.  There are also scattered instances of him being kicked and punched.  There is a scene where Roman soldiers are hiding in a crowd of protesters who then begin hitting and stabbing members of the crowd.  There are other minor instances of violence.
My cynicism aside, “Son of God” is a completely average retelling of the life of Christ.  It is inoffensive and gets the point across well enough but could have been much, much better.
“Son of God” gets three guitars out of five.
A sequel and an updated flashback to my childhood are up for your consideration this week.  Vote for the next film I see and review.
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Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film of his choice currently playing in theatres.
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