Passion Of Christ

9 out of 10


The Passion Of The Aussie

For a tome with literally the uninspired title of "Book", the Bible can proven somewhat of a persistent best seller, but consequently, producing such a performed work in a fresh and original way is akin to trying to sing "I Did It My Way" at a Karaoke Bar. Taking time off Brit-bashing, Anglophobe Mel Gibson chose the challenge of the Gospel of John, detailing the last days of Christ on earth as a challenge for directing his first major motion picture, certainly a remarkable feat with just a meagre $30million to bankroll it..

Co-writing with Benedict Fitzgerald, whose only previous screenplay to hit the big screen was "Young Blood", ironically also about a man who sets up his own church, Mel Gibson has striven to take the Hollywood out of the Jesus story. Gone is the long-haired hippie carrying a bored kid in a freshly dry cleaned robe as he stares into the distance surrounded by a bunch of awestruck shepherds with that silly fundamentist grin on their faces and a couple of sheep sweltering under the studio lighting..Instead, he paints a brutally graphic story of the suffering and death of a man, stoically determined to the last to stand for his beliefs. Although much has been said of the whipping scenes which are indeed as brutal as billed, they are both accurate and necessary to the story. Someone once said that rich people stay rich by not giving it away and likewise, the Romans didn't build an empire spanning the ancient Mediterranean world without being savage. Even so, it still reinforces my own view of Governor Pontius Pilote (Hristo Shopov) being little more than a fallguy, a man trying to save the life of a man he knows nothing about despite being placed in an impossible situation out of the blue of facing either large scale civil disorder or the death of one man..

Gibson's production is, to say the least, a daring and experimental work. Most films in a foreign language are seriously restricted to a primary market of those who speak it and rarely gain exposure in the US, but Gibson has chosen to film in ancient aramaic, a language not spoken for nearly 1500 years by anyone (other than those who compose the Windows XP manual it seems). Employing William J Fulco as the film's theological consultant, he has had every line the Hebrews say meticulously translated, although I did noticed that the Romans speak Vatican Latin rather than Roman Latin. With the help of Captive Audience Inc, a special effect experts who have worked on a number of movies including "Master and Commander" and "Van Helsing", Gibson has maintained an impressive attention to historical accuracy in every detail, right down to the Roman style of punishment whip with a vicious double ball-bearing style tip at the end of each strip of leather.

Little addition has been made, but where there is, it is ingenious. Gibson's imagery includes a dead donkey from which Judas takes the rope with which to hang himself. Satan (Rosalinda Celentano) too is not some horned monster, but a boring small figure who looks like a Bell Canada accounts clerk, there to pursuade Jesus that neither he nor anyone else can take on mankind's entire debt of sin and later she silently moves amongst the baying lynch mob, screaming for the death penalty for Jesus with a "I told you so" smug smile on his face. Simon (Jarreth J. Merz) too, is no keen willing volunteer, but just a man pulled from the crowd to carry the cross when Jesus is no longer capable and who gains a deep empathy for his suffering in doing so.

Despite a largely unknown cast, there is no weakness in performance with Jim Caviezel, better known as Edmond Dantes in "The Count of Monte Cristo" as the doomed Jesus, and Monica Bellucci as Mary Magdalen. Backed by enough extras and stuntmen to overrun Gaul, "The Passion of Christ" is truly a memorable spectacle.

Sadly, as with any well-worn classic, we already know the ending years before we even sat down to see it, but here Gibson gives us a film where it it the journey not the destination that makes it worth the viewing.

Christus Natus Hodie!

Film Critic: Robert L Thompsett