The Passion Of The Christ

The Passion Of The Christ

*****

Reviewed by: Sobhano

Taut and visceral filmmaking at its most intense.

Mel Gibson's homage to his faith grapples with its defining principles - the transformation of suffering through faith and love. Focus on the brutality of Christ's Stations of the Cross is searingly tight. From the stomach churning close-ups of ripped flesh, to the drooling broken body of Christ dragging the cross, to the final excruciating scenes of the raising of the crucifix, the viewer is plunged into a gore-spattered orgy of violence without respite.

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What stops it descending into an extended outtake from Reservoir Dogs is the silent presence of Jim Caviezel in the central role. Within the first five minutes, his face is bleeding and dishevelled; the performance becomes that of a wounded, dying man. We are relieved of the chore of having to decide whether our celluloid Jesus is up to muster. This is a face that provides a canvas for Gibson to etch rivulets of bright red blood dripping down coils of jet black hair into the hard white dust of a desert land.

Words/statements are choked out, facial expressions focused on the one eye that isn't folded in on itself.

Caviezel has presence and he has modesty. Also, physically he is a big man. His body is thrown around like a carcass and you get a sense of the sheer technical difficulty of nailing someone to a cross and raising the full weight upright.

His depth is his silence. What you feel is perhaps an off-screen shyness. He discovers an innocence and vulnerability that draws you into his suffering and the suffering of the two Marys and the disciples, who are desperate and powerless to stop the procession to Calvary.

It's a difficult act to sustain and there are moments when you wonder whether you are going to last the course of (very painterly) portrayals of weeping womanhood and (very grotesque) bleeding flesh. Caviezel keeps you interested, in the sense that you feel there's a real person with real thoughts in there, rather than the usual model type with fine cheek bones (Robert Powell).

The much vaunted prejudicial tone towards the rabbis appears over-exaggerated. They are no different to any other religious autocracy that seeks to use violence to demonstrate its authority. What seems more pertinent is the similarity between the rabbis of those times and today's ayatollahs in Iraq, trying to harness the baying demands of the mob, while remaining beholden to the occupying power: for Jerusalem read Baghdad.

Despatching Jesus is simply an expedient and necessary means to ride the wave of popular discontent. Nobody is in control, least of all the Romans, who seem bemused and displaced, forced to mop up the waste products of a slave nation. But there is a cleverly paced dawning on the oppressors that they are participating in a crime of unknown proportions. Even the most hardened Roman soldiers find themselves confused, or startled, by the circumstances of this execution. In the portrayal of Pontius Pilate, there is a fine analysis of a man torn by his duty as a state functionary and his human feelings towards Jesus.

The surprise of The Passion is that it remains so recognisably the work of Mel Gibson. Although he won Oscars for Braveheart, this film has a more mature feel. He is not dealing with a broad epic sweep of a story. This is a concentrated, sharply edited picture, where nothing is wasted.

He is good on historical detail, although the scale is smaller now and perhaps less of a distraction. Also, he knows how to beat up a body. From Mad Max onwards, he has been at the receiving end of more than a few punch ups.

This time, there is a higher purpose to the goryfication.

Reviewed on: 25 Mar 2004
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A stunning, emotionally gruelling telling of the Passion.
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Read more The Passion Of The Christ reviews:

Scott Macdonald *****
Tony Sullivan ***

Director: Mel Gibson

Writer: Benedict Fitzgerald, Mel Gibson

Starring: James Caviezel, Maia Morgenstern, Christo Jivkov, Francesco De Vito, Monica Bellucci, Mattia Sbragia, Toni Bertorelli, Luca Lionello, Hristo Shopov, Claudia Gerini, Fabio Sartor

Year: 2004

Runtime: 126 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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