"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 about...you 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 $25
million. You don’t see anybody else dropping that kind of cash on a
movie that initially was passed up by all of the major studios, and
is a from-the-heart project for Gibson like this one.
Comments? Drop me a line at
Bellview Rating System:
"Opening Weekend": This is
the highest rating a movie can receive. Reserved for movies that
exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development,
setting...or Salma Hayek. Not necessarily in that order.
"$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
"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 bad...man, 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
"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