Worth A Look: 13.9%
Pretty Bad: 10.55%
Total Crap: 14.07%
15 reviews, 507 user ratings
|Passion of the Christ, The
by David Hollands
I'd heard every bit of controversy related to this film, and being the curious person that I am, had to see for myself if most of the allegations against the picture were true. I also wanted to find out if this movie was any good. Controversy may help popularity, but it never enhances the quality of a movie. I went into the movie as if it was just another film of the week. You know what? The Passion of the Christ just isn't a good film.The movie details the final twelve hours leading up to and including the death of Jesus Christ. That's essentially all one needs to know about the film. While the story is familiar, there are some details in the film that may confuse some not familiar with the story of Christ. This lack of cohesion hurts the movie. For example, director Mel Gibson often flashes to events in Jesus' life, including scenes from his childhood, moments in which he preaches, and him speaking to his disciples before his ultimate demise. This could have helped to add some dramatic impact to a few scenes, though most of the time, I was reminded why I hate self-indulgent abstract art films so much. The fact that the technique grows tired right around the second time it's used certainly doesn't help, but then there are simply confusing moments that seem to have been included only for the Biblically knowledgeable.
"The technical aspects are superb. Can't say much about the rest."
There's a moment in which we flash back to Jesus as he saves Magdalene from being stoned. The film fails to let audiences know that she was to be stoned for prostitution. What we see are images of stones being dropped, and Magdalene crawling towards Jesus' feet. Even if one is familiar with the inner details of this particular scene, or any other of the flashback moments, they ultimately fail to provide much dramatic impact, and don't set up or allow any good payoffs to occur later in the film. They are hopelessly underdeveloped. This makes one question whether some of the extreme violence in the later half of the movie is dramatically okay, or if it's becoming exploitative. If we don't get a good sense of what was so important about Christ, or any scenes devoted to developing him as an interesting human character, it is difficult to feel much dramatic impact when his ultimate death occurs.
This picture would have been a lot better had Gibson included more besides detailing the last twelve hours. As much as I find 1965's The Greatest Story Ever Told to be boring, I can't deny that I felt an impact when Christ died. That is because the film developed Christ as a person, and was much more successful in establishing the weight and importance of the character. In Passion, we learn next to nothing except finding out (repeatedly) that people consider Jesus a heretic and that he must be destroyed. Thus, what is the point of sitting through a film in which we see Jesus being brutally whipped, scourged and crucified with every nasty detail left intact if we hardly feel any sense of loss?
Most frustrating is how underdeveloped most of the characters turn out to be. Judas betrays Jesus, suffers from his conscience, and hangs himself. No real time devoted to explaining the character's actions in depth; thus, wasted screen time and an almost subplot-like feeling. Even more frustrating is that one of the key characters, Mary, Jesus' mother, does little in the film except talk at times and carry one expression. She is often seen following Jesus about as he is tortured, which is understandable. However, with no development, any scene involving her character feels like wasted space. Then, there's Magdalene. To say she does nothing of note would be an understatement. She deadens the flow of the story whenever she appears, what with her endless scenes of staring at Christ in sadness or awe. This gets more than a little repetitive, believe me. Itís also used quite a bit in the film.
There are elements in the film that do lift it above terrible, however. The social commentary in the film is stunning. Gibson captures human nature perfectly here, with the crowds screaming for blood and murder ringing depressingly true (the same thing happens today, essentially, on shows like Jerry Springer). Even without the knowledge of Christ's life presented in the film, if Gibson had reduced the sometimes repetitive excess of torture, he could have had a rather brilliant examination of the darkest sides of human nature here. When looking at the film this way, some of the dramatic weight lost through lack of character development returns. In fact, the violence is just above exploitative for the reason that it perfectly mirrors how damaging human nature can be. Most human beings are, by our definition, inherently evil. Our crimes as a species have been, and still are, enormous. Thus, it would seem justified if the man who must bear this sin would be brutalized so much. The violence does have a purpose in this way, and even though it does get repetitive, I understand that part of the point.
Gibson is also really good at pulling emotion from his viewer. Even if more could have been had, Gibson creates quite a few stunning moments throughout. One of those moments involves Mary comforting Jesus after the cross has fallen on him. It's a real eye-opener when one realises that Gibson has pulled a wonderfully human moment from characters this thin. Another moment like this occurs when Peter denies Christ after Christ has been captured. The simplicity of Peter denying comfort from Mary and Magdalene for denying Christ. When Christ sees him and they lock eyes as this occurs, the event speaks volumes about the human condition. The few scenes like this help to slightly illuminate just what Jesus is dying for in the film, and it is disappointing that more moments like this couldn't have been included.
As soon as these good qualities pass in the viewer's mind, more flaws begin to pop up. The most aggravating is that the film becomes quite boring after a while. Most of the second half of the film has Jesus walking with his cross up to the mountain on which he will be crucified. We witness some twenty moments of him crying out in anguish (Caviezel does this in the most annoying ways possible). We also witness about five moments of Jesus dropping his cross in the slowest of slow motion. The second time is still bearable, and it would actually make dramatic sense to end those moments when Jesus is helped by a passer-by. But no, we must witness this one moment endlessly, only in different locations. While it may seem almost perverse of me to criticize scenes of torture, know that even the most brutal of things repeated often in a film grows endlessly tiring.
Throughout, we witness near waterfalls of blood throughout, and each time Jesus is brutalized in any way, there's an exaggerated squishy sound effect to go along with it. If it weren't for the fact that all this happens to one character, this could have easily been mistaken for a slasher film. The sheer exaggeration of everything violent in the picture throws one off so much, that any poetry various moments in the film could have contained are completely stamped out. We're just constantly distracted by how bloody and over the top everything is. This movie approaches high camp numerous times throughout. Problem is that this not meant to be a camp classic at all. The endless waves of gooey glop never stop, and everyone in the film is absolutely serious about what they are doing. Never a good combination; tonal problems definitely appear.
Why no one questioned Gibson slightly over the numerous amounts of laughable demons sprinkled throughout the film is beyond me. While the visualisation of Satan is brilliantly done and unbelievably creepy, the other elements in the film that attempt to scare are just ridiculous. We get a badly rendered CGI monster that shows up briefly to terrify Judas, evil dwarfs with deformities who bite things, and a bald baby who appears to have aged well beyond his years. Most of this is brought off in the silliest manner possible, with these supposedly scary creatures leering into the lense and screaming. That's not scary, it's just loud and silly. However, of the demon imagery, I will say that a shot of Satan screaming in Hell as mankind's sins are washed clean is one of the most amazingly frightening images in recent cinema. Still, it lasts too quickly and comes way too late in the game to salvage much of the film.
One also looks at the film and wonders whether we aren't simply watching a movie preaching that we must accept Christ and his religion or suffer dire consequences. If these sound like paranoid ramblings, examine some parts of the film a little closer. Anyone in the film who opposes Christ in any way is usually portrayed as a goofy super-villain, endlessly shouting and shooting spit particles across rooms. It's endlessly distracting, and one is taken aback at how easily Gibson has chosen to portray this aspect of the film. Everything is essentially black and white in this movie. The line of good and not so good is so thin as to become almost offensively uninteresting. Also, in a scene in which another convicted man on the cross taunts Jesus, a crow suddenly shows up and pecks out his eye. What is the message there? Oppose my son's word, and a crow shall ruin thin ocular vision? That doesn't sound much like the doings of the Christian God in the new testament, as told briefly by Jesus in the film as being loving. Right, those were definitely the actions of a loving God.
Most of the moments like those feel like people are being bullied into accepting the beliefs of the filmmaker, something that just doesn't sit well in this day and age. Because of this feeling, a scene in which the Jewish temple is ripped apart by an earthquake after Jesus' demise rings somewhat disturbing. It is possible that Gibson meant to show the destruction of human arrogance, but I have my doubts.
Even with these problems, the technical aspects of the picture are superb. Mel Gibson directs the film well, hardly ever falling back into visual cliche. He finds creative ways to photograph many of the sequences in the film, the best being the opening, when Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane praying. The scene is bathed in blue, with a glorious shaft of light the only illumination. The Devil soon arrives and proceeds to taunt Jesus with words, and a snake. It's a beautifully shot scene, and there are many more moments in the movie like this; one being when Judas ultimately commits suicide by hanging, and dangles over the corpse of a rotting animal. A little gross, but definitely telling.
There is a downside to the direction, however. Gibson does tend to overdo some aspects of the visuals. For one thing, this film uses slow motion constantly. The technique becomes tired very quickly. Slow motion can be used well to symbolize drama and the weight of certain things in a scene, though if it is used as often as it is here, it ultimately just strikes audience members as a technique, and nothing more. The early scenes of the violence are handled well though. Gibson cuts effectively only to things that we need to see in order to achieve maximum impact out of a scene. During the first bloody beating, Gibson cuts from Christ's suffering to the pain of his mother Mary. It's a powerful moment, as we can see the effect of his suffering on others, especially someone as important as his mother. After that though, Gibson just loses it, and relies on every bit of nasty effects work to tell his story. Just try to pick your jaw off the floor when Jesus is stabbed with a spear and bleeds in a fashion similar to characters from Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill movies.
The cinematography by Caleb Deschanel is phenomenal. It literally feels like a portal into a different time. Never while watching the film do we feel that a light source is produced by electricity, which definitely would have destroyed any actual sense of time and place. Deschanel easily deserves all the praise he gets, because his work here is some of his best. No matter what the location, Deschanel always make sure that the shot looks as beautiful as it can possibly be, even when it is something gory on which we are asked to focus. There are so many memorable shots here, that one will ultimately lose count trying to keep track of them all.
John Debney contributes a fantastic score to the film, one filled with every emotion of the human heart. It is filled with, well yes, an indescribable passion. There are scenes which are subtle in their arrangements, never truly pounding one over the head. This makes the moments in which the music lets loose all the more powerful. Whenever the full chorus comes into the film, we feel the presence of something divine, because unlike so many other epics of this nature, it is not overused in the slightest bit. The score for the closing credits is so fantastic, that it almost made me want to think that I had just seen a much better film. It's that good.
Unfortunately, the performances are all they can be given the rather limited character base. That is to say, pretty poor. James Caviezel does nothing in the film except carry the same one-note expression. Suffering comes extremely easily to this actor, so much so that one feels that ease too much. This is basically Caviezel on auto-pilot, and considering that he is basically the film's most important character, one can definitely see a problem. He's usually annoying in the role, as he repeats many of his same expressions and body movements throughout. A very typical portrayal that offers nothing in the way of depth, something necessary for a film of this type. The only two actors truly of note here are Hristo Shopov as Pontious Pilate and Rosalinda Celentano as Satan (you know you have a problem when the fricken Devil comes off as more interesting then the heavenly saviour). Shopov suggests a very conflicted man, and he is constantly interesting to watch. He makes me feel sad that he wasn't included in the movie a little bit more. Celentano as the Devil is just stunning. With a single look, she can instil a terror equivalent to each audience members' greatest fear. Her body language is graceful, and yet frighteningly seductive. The way in which she is able to draw all eyes to her just by appearing in the frame is extraordinary.The Passion of the Christ is a flawed film, and that's disappointing. It could have been a fantastic story about Jesus Christ, although it drops the ball on more then a few occasions. It gets boring quickly, most of the sequences in the film practically sweat camp value, and aside from some excellent technical work, there's really nothing going on here accept watching a movie obviously made for only one specific audience. Sorry, but films have to be accessible for anyone coming into the cinema, regardless of knowledge or religion. Things like underdeveloped flashback moments, or major elements left out solely because some members of the audience already know about them is just lazy filmmaking. Those moments are key to establishing the character of Christ, and they don't do this successfully at all. Thus dramatic weight is lost. Ultimately, much of what the film could have been is lost as well.
link directly to this review at https://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=8773&reviewer=355
originally posted: 01/18/05 14:10:14