Movie Review: “Son of God” makes an effective-enough clip job

ImageBlame Mel Gibson for it if you like, but no Jesus movie these days is worth its salt without an utterly unflinching treatment of his torture and crucifixion. And “Son of God” has stretches where the agony we watch this poor man endure is avert-your-eyes awful. If history ever produced a more excruciating form of punishment, it probably included lions at dinner time.
But “Son of God,” a big screen version of Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s History Channel TV series “The Bible,” has a redemptive optimism about it that makes the brutality go down easier. Their Jesus may be all business. But he sports a beatific smile as he renders unto audiences lines that feel like rough drafts of the polished poetry of the King James Bible.
“I’ll give my stone to the first man who tells me he has not sinned” doesn’t have the memorable ring of “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” But that’s what Shakespearean editors can do for you.
It’s a standard issue Christ picture — hitting the high points from Jesus (Diogo Morgado) taking that first fishing trip with Peter (Darwin Shaw) to Lazarus to “Where’s Judas?” to “Give us Barabbas” and the long, final walk with a cross.
Unlike “The Passion of the Christ,” there’s no Aramaic with English subtitles, a lot less blood and no anti-Semitism. No character feels like a caricature — not the hypocritical Pharisee Caiaphas (Adrian Schiller) or the gruff and dismissive Pontius Pilate (Greg Hicks of “Snow White and the Huntsman”). But it’s also dramatically flat, with few actors making much of an impression as they play saints and sinners, the icons of The Bible.
An eight minute prologue takes us from Eve and Adam through Noah and Abraham to the Biblical “present,” in which the Apostle John (Sebastian Knapp) narrates the story — from recruiting Peter to the Miracle of Fishes and Loaves (unleavened pita bread here), from tackling the money changers in the Temple to the Sermon on the Mount.
The settings are passable versions of ancient Israel — digital models of Jerusalem, here and there, amidst the arid, rock-strewn landscape.
Among the cast, Hicks and Shaw have the most presence, with co-producer Downey (“Touched by an Angel”) managing a perfectly weepy Mother Mary.
And while Morgado’s Jesus suggests little of the charisma of this first “fisher of men,” it is a pleasantly retro, “Hippies will Inherit the Earth” take on the man. The film emphasizes his conection with children, his role as rabbi or “teacher,” and his big lessons about forgiveness, humility, compassion for the poor and wariness of the wealthy. Morgado’s Portuguese accent makes him stand out from the often Brit-accented Apostles, Pharisees and Romans.
Like the criticized TV series it is culled from, the film’s main aim is to be inoffensive, and with multiple directors and screenwriters, they at least manage that. Parts of the story emphasized by the Catholic Church (the redemption of Dismas, on the cross next to Christ) and that inspired “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (the spear of Longinus delivers the coup de grace) are touched on.
And unlike the bloody blockbuster by Mr. Gibson, this loving, forgiving “Son” comes back long enough to remind us of why the religion, founded in his name, has endured.

Roger Moore’s interview with the big screen Jesus and the creators of “Son of God” is here.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense and bloody depiction of The Crucifixion, and for some sequences of violence
Cast: Diogo Morgado, Greg Hicks, Roma Downey, Darwin Shaw
Credits: Directed by Christopher Spencer, scripted by Richard Bedser, Christopher Spencer, Nic Young and Colin Wash. A Fox release.
Running time: 2:20

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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8 Responses to Movie Review: “Son of God” makes an effective-enough clip job

  1. OlderButWiser says:

    Thank you for this review. I will eventually plan on seeing the film, but your review sums up a similar reaction to the Bible series on TV that this is taken from, which left me a bit confused and not sure what exactly it was that they were trying to do with the series. It puzzles me even now how so many people rave about the series.

    Contrary to what you feel, because I understand the significance of the enormous sacrifice involved with each drop of blood and intensity of the crucifixion, I found the Passion to be a good movie. Nothing is perfect, but it was refreshing to see someone portray the enormity of the crucifixion (which by the way was still not even close to what happened in reality, despite the squeamish emotionally flabby nature of most Americans).

    I mean, come on, what has more impact- saying a bunch of guys died in another country for some purpose or to show them Black Hawk Down?

    At least now I won’t be rushing to the theater to see SOG movie, though. Thanks again.

    • rich says:

      Son of God has a couple of things going against it from the start. A story line that is very well known and trying to convey spirituality or the supernatural onto the silver screen. Much like a Stephen King novel, movies can never convey the feelings and emotions of the paranormal and that makes religious movies so difficult to produce. Watching any Jesus film is like watching the rerun of a sporting event that you already know the outcome.
      The photography and special effects however were not bad in SOG although I have always been under the impression that in the real Jesus’ time 2000 years ago, I would think the landscape was much more fertile. With the fact that the Middle East has always been a earthquake hotbed it makes sense that there was more vegetation back in the day particularly in a heavily populated area such as Jerusalem.
      The one important message of SOG emphasized that I have not seen before was the emphasis on the socio-economic environment of that time. SOG did a good job of setting this Roman occupation of Israel. Showing the extreme nature of Rome’s tyrannical rule of the Jewish culture where the Israelites were allowed to observe their religious beliefs as long as they did not rock the boat. How many of us would have dared upset the apple cart as Jesus did to only endure tremendous torture. I found myself having sympathy for Caiphus (sp?) and his arbitrator Nicodemus. Would we have done any differently.
      Jesus’ brief interlude with Pontius Pilate in the jail cell brought out the militaristic side of Jesus. John’s version of that scene is not often mentioned in religious circles but it does beg the question that when the cause is right instead of turning the other cheek, should the sword be drawn instead. Peace or justice, love or war – depends on the situation.
      SOG can’t touch Mel’s Passion story but it does leave food for thought.

  2. Joe says:

    In response to Roger Moore’s idiotic comment and reference to the fact of anti-semitism in Passion of Christ . You are unequivocally wrong ! Their is no anti-Semitism in ” Passion “” , only the truth . Now if you Mr. Moore are of Jewish origin , than tough ! The movie is a depiction of what happened to Christ at that time in human history . It does not put all or part of the blame of Jesus’s death on the Jews , for the Jews and the Romans are both to blame here . It states the facts as they happened with a little Hollywood twist of course . If you Mr. Moore have a problem with that , than I suggest you never see a Hollywood Liberalized movie ever again or find another profession , but don’t come with your Extreme Biased Liberal ideology and mentality and blame Passion for being anti-semite in it’s tone . I suggest you start attacking the Thousands of idiotic Hollywood progressive disgusting movies that definitely warrant attacks and ridicule instead of attacking a movie that should not be put under a microscope but merely to enjoy and learn a few things !

    • Joe, Joe Joe. Using that jawbone, are you? But not your brain pan?

      A movie of hook-nosed villains, Pharisees, et al, with a hook-nosed (most Jewish) disciple as Judas? Mel Gibson’s Jew-bashing is pretty obvious to anybody but some bigot who thinks like him and his fellow “conservatives.”

      • Rosa Beaty says:

        I wonder if Mr. Gibson would ever consent to a having an interviewer ask the really tough questions about his “mind set” regarding The Passion of the Christ. I’m sure that I wasn’t the only Mel fan that had a sad, sinking feeling when all of his personal life and demons were splashed across every possible form of media. Drugs, alcohol and infidelity played such a huge role in Mel saga that it his life. Have you, Mr. Moore, ever reached out to him and asked for an interview? I don’t know how insulated he keeps himself (or his PR team), but….that would be a huge bonanza for any reporter. Consider getting that interview. Thanks for the review on Son of God. I do plan on seeing it.

  3. Tonya says:

    Was all that really necessary? If you have no interest in seeing a movie about Christ or someone’s story of what they believed happened then DO NOT GO SEE IT! There is no need to criticize another persons beliefs(religion)! Really life is to short for all that bull and arguing with and disrespecting others only shows how ugly you are it accomplishes NOTHING! Each person is entitled to their own belief so just let them have it cause eventually EVERYONE will find the truth the truth is inevitable!

  4. alanjk47 says:

    I never expect Godless critics to give films about Jesus very good ratings, but 1 thing keeps bugging me about a film that has grossed more than any other movie that is so beloved and made by a man so demonized by the press and liberal Hollywood:
    I keep hearing (especially reviewers like you) saying: “The Passion of The Christ’s… Anti-Semitism”… – WHAT Anti-Semitism!!!! The passion of the Christ is NOT Anti-Semitic for Christ’s sake!!! Name me the scene(s) and dialogue(s) where it is! It’s NOT!!!!!!!

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