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The last twelve hours in the life of Jesus, as pieced together from the Gospels of the New Testament, starting at the Garden of Olives (Gethsemane) where Jesus (Jim Cxavaziel) has gone to pray after the Last Supper. Jesus resists Satan's temptations. Betrayed by Judas Iscariot (Luca Lionello), Jesus is arrested and taken back to within the city walls of Jerusalem where the leaders of the Pharisees confront him with accusations of blasphemy. First Pilate (Hristo Spovov) and then Herod ( Luca de Dominicis) refuse to condemn him to death. Pilate offers to flog him severely. But the Pharisees are adamant, and the Romans finally oblige, crucifying him with brutal relish.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
'Vanity' books, those printed up by their author, often suffer from a lack of discipline or rigour as they do not pass through the usual filters like agents, editors and publishers. Likewise, Mel Gibson's long-heralded cinematic version of the Gospels has reached audiences just as Mel Gibson has intended. And more's the pity. Being passionate about your subject is one thing, being blindly obsessed by it is another. That's how it seems, anyway, with a pious and simplified view of Jesus playing the silent victim in an overzealous production of his beating and crucifixion.

With the exception of three or four flashbacks in which the gentle Jesus, meek and mild, preaches kindness, love for your enemy and urges his followers to follow him to the right hand of God, the film is a graphically vicious and brutally bloody portrayal of the arrest, the mocking, the trial, the beating and the crucifixion.

This is an over-indulgent version of the traditionally worn out view of the event, which was written into the Gospels almost 2,000 years ago, with the specific purpose of reaching the masses with a fantastic fable. What facts they retained were embellished and these engorged elements have turned up here in still bigger outlines. The film is not too concerned with any context, concentrating on the agonies that the brutal punishment inflicted. The Passion, as it's called.

Gibson is not content to focus on the brutality, he succumbs to slo-mo-itis, so we have at least four versions of Jesus falling to the ground as he carries his cross, in slo-mo. Elsewhere, he persuades the talented Caleb Deschanel to take the camera into his hand to create a sense of chaos. At the end, he even gives us the shaking camera to portray an earthquake that symbolically splits a temple and shakes the ground around the cross. These are just some of the signs of a simplistic, pumped up story telling style that leaves us aghast at the blood spilt but aching for some meaning, some connection, something to be said. He has nothing to say. At least it isn't in English: his decision to use languages of the time is the best thing about it, with its speech rhythms and sounds matching the period.

When I was being taught by Catholic priests in England, I already had a bloody view of the Gospel story, punctuated by the 12 stations of the cross around every church. The horror didn't help then, and it doesn't help now.

Neither does the appearance of a devil incarnated as a vaguely androgynous, pale faced creature, first at Gesthemane and later at the crucifixion, where it carries a monstrous baby.

As for the controversy preceding the film's release, Mel Gibson's production and distribution company can say a prayer of thanks that some people took offence early enough to hype up the film's controversies. Frankly, the Jews needn't worry about anti-Semitism. It's the Italians who should be waving legal writs, claiming racial/ ethnic slurs for the way their ancestors are portrayed as thuggish and rowdy boors who'd play dice at the foot of the cross, cackling all the time. Indeed, brutish Roman soldiers cackling at Jesus' misery, or taking pleasure in beating him to within a sandle-sole of his life are far too frequent on screen. It's amateurish overkill.

Maia Morgenstern was pregnant during filming; not that you can tell, but it underscores how wrong she is as the mother of Jesus, who is 33. She doesn't look older than his sister.

But the final insult to our intelligence is the end shot of a healed Jesus, smooth of skin and free of the thousand scars and wounds - except for a neat hole in his hand we glimpse as he walks naked out of frame. I hope I haven't spoilt the ending for you.

Published September 2, 2004

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CAST: James Caviezel, Maia Morgenstern, Monica Bellucci, Toni Bertorelli, Hristo Shopov, Luca de Dominicis

DIRECTOR: Mel Gibson

SCRIPT: Benedict Fitzgerald, Mel Gibson

RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes



DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video

DVD RELEASE: September 1, s004

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