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"The Passion of the Christ"

Directed by Mel Gibson.
Written by Benedict Fitzgerald and Mel Gibson.
Starring Jim Caviezel, Monica Bellucci and Claudia Gerini.
Release Year:  2004 
Review Date:  2/27/04 


Well, on Ash Wednesday I rolled over to the local multiplex for a 1 PM showing of “The Passion of the Christ”, Mel Gibson’s new film guessed it, Jesus.  As usual, I planned on rolling up right at the start time for my matinee; I figured that, hey, it IS a work day, people won’t be hangin’ out at the theater just to see this new religious film, because a) it’s a Wednesday, and if people are off work they should be getting ashes, and b) this is a religious film, meaning 99% of such films make almost no money at the box office.

Wrong, and wrong.

First of all, the Loews I visited was a zoo.  The theater was almost sold out, which shocked the living bejesus out of me.  Then, I find out that the film has raked in something like $20 million on its first day, and something like $7 million in matinee tickets alone, which for a weekday during the school year has simply got to be a modern-day record.  I have done no reading up on this film, but I was convinced that despite the controversy, it will make back its $25 million budget and go away.

It’s hard to say what the fate of the film will be after its theatrical run, but “The Passion of the Christ” really does have some of the most startling, awesome-in-scope scenes maybe in the history of cinema.  This is because Gibson goes after an icon like Jesus Christ and brings to life what many Christians assumed happened but had no interest in seeing made into a movie—Christ’s last full day leading up to His crucifixion.  So, we mostly have to sit through watching the Messiah (Jim Caviezel) getting punched, kicked, strangled, whipped, lashed, and soundly beaten for, oh, 75% of the film, and then he gets nailed to a wooden cross.  Roll credits.

After doing some reading about the film tonight, it seems like the controversy surrounding this film has more to do with thoughts that “The Passion” will lead otherwise-knowledgeable people to believe that Christ’s death was the Jews’ fault, and admittedly, the portrayal of Jewish high priests and their rowdy supporters is not flattering in the first hour of the film.  I can’t understand why seeing this film would drive anyone to start thinking that the blame for His death should be placed on the Jews, but what do I know.  I’m also not Jewish, so I would be intrigued to see what some of the Jewish audience thought upon leaving the theater.   I DO know that the violence in this film is much more controversial than any possible anti-Semitism, because you could just hear the groans in my audience as the beatings were going on and on...and, on...and, on...

...and, this is the film’s biggest problem.  There really isn’t much movie here, when you really break it down.  Take away a nearly 10-minute flogging sequence and the oppressive 30-minute sequence where Christ is led up into the hills to be finally posted on the cross, and you don’t really have much to do, eh?  There is so much slow motion used in “The Passion” that even John Woo might ask for forgiveness; how many times must I endure Christ falling to the ground, with his hands raised into the air?  Some of these filmmaking moves take away from the emotional impact of some truly stunning scenes, like when the Jews ask for Pontius Pilate (Hristo Naumov Shopov) to release a convicted murderer over allowing Jesus to walk the streets again as a free man.  Or that flogging number, which initially is tough to watch, or the movie’s set piece, the inevitable crucifixion that makes nails a very, very scary sight indeed.

Caviezel is excellent.  Sure, he is coated in blood, blood and more blood effects for almost all of his screen time, but he conveys the non-violent nature of his character so well and he just looks the part, doesn’t he?  (At least, in a traditional movie sense.)  The supporting cast is made up of many Italians, including Monica Bellucci (“The Matrix” sequels), who is resigned to tears for most of her screen time as Mary Magdalen.  But, all of them bring intensity to their parts, be it small or large, frantic mob member or Roman paindealers or sobbing housewives.  The film is entirely subtitled (sorry, Ross), but this wasn’t a problem since there are long stretches where there is no dialogue at all.

“The Passion of the Christ” is a moments film for me; so much of it was forgettable, but there is no denying that there are moments of true power that are best appreciated on the big screen in front of a large audience.  And for me, I respect anyone that funds an entire production like this and takes a real risk, one that will probably work out for Gibson.  He fronted the entire budget for the film ($25-$30 million, depending on who you ask) and stands to make a killing if the film does well.  Sure, Gibson is rich, but I don’t care who you are, $25 million is $25 million.  You don’t see anybody else dropping that kind of cash on a movie that initially was passed up by all of the major studios, and is a from-the-heart project for Gibson like this one.

Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09