THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"SON OF GOD"
Perhaps the only surprising thing about Son of God is that it ends with a Cee-Lo Green song playing over the credits. I'm dead serious. The film is an edited-down version of the ten-hour History Channel miniseries The Bible (which I've not seen). It takes the sections related to the life of Jesus and supplements them with footage not included in the TV version. As you might expect, this is a reverent dramatization of the life of Jesus Christ, with none of the controversial ideas contained in The Last Temptation of Christ and none of excessive brutality found in The Passion of the Christ. Made by believers for believers, it does exactly what it sets out to do, and if you're fine with that, you won't walk away disappointed.
Diogo Morgado plays Jesus, and the movie tracks Him from birth through crucifixion and resurrection. Most of the well-known stories are depicted: walking on water, healing the sick, providing loaves and fishes, the Last Supper. You already know what you're going to see here. Pretty much all of the big moments are accounted for.
I could focus on the flaws in Son of God if I wanted to. I could point out that certain moments (such as the last shot of the film) are kind of cheesy. Or that some of the CGI visual effects used to recreate Jerusalem and a massive flood are cheap-looking and unconvincing. Or that, having been edited down from a larger whole, the pacing is sometimes choppy. Those things are all true, but they aren't what I want to focus on.
No, I want to focus on what the film gets right. I've always found many of the Bible stories to be powerful and inspiring, most especially those pertaining to Jesus. The same is clearly true for director Christopher Spencer and producers Mark Burnett (Survivor) and Roma Downey (Touched by an Angel). It's undeniable that they aimed solely to depict stories we all know in a way that is entertaining while still being faithful to their meaning. I don't intend this comparison disrespectfully, but Bible stories are, in some sense, similar to superhero origin stories. No matter how many times we hear the story of, say, Superman, it captures us. It can be told time and again, and even though the tale doesn't change much, we like hearing it because it connects in some fundamental way. Similarly, there have been other cinematic depictions of the life of Christ. This one doesn't try to bring any cutting-edge filmmaking techniques to the table, nor does it take some novel approach; it just focuses on conveying the deep relevance these Bible stories continue to have, and that works. Turning the other cheek, not judging your fellow man, and holding onto faith in even the darkest of hours are the primary themes here. Son of God, in telling Christ's story onscreen yet again, is a wonderful reminder of these important ideals.
I think Jesus Christ is perhaps the hardest role an actor can be asked to play, because how do you portray Him? Is there a taller order to be found anywhere? Diogo Morgado perhaps doesn't give the kind of textured performance that Willem Dafoe or Jim Caviezel did when they played Christ, but he's pretty solid nonetheless. In the early scenes, he brings a pleasing sense of joy to Jesus, showing that He clearly feels happy spreading love and God's word to the people. Later on, when He realizes that part of God's plan involves death, the actor conveys an understandable mixture of fear and acceptance that it's all for the greater good. Morgado does an admirable job, all in all.
If a few of the early scenes play a little flat, Son of God finds its surest footing in the third act. The crucifixion and Resurrection are so inherently dramatic that it's hard to mess them up. Even though The Passion of the Christ quintessentially portrayed those events, Son of God recreates them in a manner that contains its own power. Appropriately, it is here that the movie most assuredly connects.
I took Son of God at the level at which it was intended and didn't expect it to be anything beyond what it is. This is a movie designed to celebrate Christ and His message of peace, love, and forgiveness, for the pleasure of audiences with faith. On that count, it is a satisfying, inspirational experience.
( out of four)
Son of God is rated PG-13 for intense and bloody depiction of The Crucifixion, and for some sequences of violence. The running time is 2 hours and 18 minutes.
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