Film review

The Passion Of The Christ

DiRECTED BY Mel Gibson

STARRING James Caviezel, Maia Morgenstern, Monica Bellucci

Opened March 26, Cert 18, 126 mins

If you enjoyed the finale of Braveheart, where Mel Gibson was hanged, drawn and quartered in lascivious close-up, then this is the movie for you. This time it's worse and lasts for two hours, as we're dragged through Christ's final hours of torture and crucifixion.

Gibson apparently wanted to "just tell the truth" about the death of Christ, but Mel's the last guy you'd go to for authenticity (Braveheart? The Patriot? Hello?). Unquestionably, Gibson has forced a rethink about traditional anodyne images of the crucifixion and supplants them with eye-watering cruelty, but ultimately his movie is no more 'realistic' than Finding Nemo.

While the scourging of Jesus is presented as a blood-spraying, flesh-spattering atrocity exhibition lingered over in appalling detail, elsewhere Gibson doesn't mind inventing walk-on cameos for Satan or hallucinogenic visions for Judas. "Reality", it seems, is merely a tactical terror-weapon.

The visceral force of the blood-letting will knock you off balance, but if you can manage to engage your critical faculties you'll find that behind it lies film-making of pedestrian banality. Flashbacks of Christ's life are delivered in facile slow-motion, lit like a Lexus commercial and drenched in treacly orchestral music. The movie's most heartstring-tugging moment is when Mary runs to comfort her son as he drags his cross towards Calvary, remembering how she used to cosset him as a child, but the episode is pure sentimental invention.

The focus of the film is so narrow and offers so little insight into Christ's life and teachings that the characters can't be more than cartoons of Love, Betrayal, Pity or whatever (with the exception of Pontius Pilate, portrayed as a dithering Lib-Dem). Jews are up in arms about the Fagin-like Pharisees, though nobody seems to have noticed the way King Herod's court is a bestiary of eye-rolling cretins while the criminal Barabbas is caricatured as a dribbling, one-eyed Hulk. Meanwhile, Romans might feel aggrieved at being represented as subhuman sadists.

Unbelievably, some clerics are recommending this as instructive family viewing, which suggests that we atheists were right all along.

Rating: 1 / 10


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