I have a real problem with any movie that's not a documentary - no matter the topic or the skill of the filmmaker - being used as a teaching tool. When religious leaders urge their congregations to see a specific movie as a means of learning the Gospel, a dangerous line has been crossed. Won't churchgoers be learning the Gospel according to Mel? This is not a documentary, this is a creation of Mel Gibson's, and though it's well researched, it is still infused with the artistic license necessary to filmmaking. No one can stand up and declare, "Yes, this is how it happened. Watch it and learn." This is one well-intentioned man's desire to express how he feels spiritually by creating a piece of art and sharing that vision with willing audiences. To hear religious leaders all but commanding their flocks to go see a film seems surreal to me.
Shockingly violent, chock full of scenes drenched in blood, "The Passion of The Christ" earns its R rating many times over. Gibson did this on purpose in an attempt to show how brutal the times were and how vicious crucifixion was (he succeeds on both counts).
Getting away from the hype and controversy surrounding the film and reviewing it as a movie, the one thing that stands out the most is the acting. It was phenomenal. Jim Caviezel (was it just a weird coincidence his initials are JC?) spends much of the film coated in blood and gore, yet Caviezel delivers a multi-layered performance beyond what's expected. In supporting roles, Maia Morgenstern (Mary) and Monica Bellucci (Mary Magdalene) convey emotions without the help of much dialogue, and each give exceptionally nuanced performances. In my opinion, this is both Bellucci's and Caviezel's best work to date.
Unlike most movies I review, there's no need to provide a synopsis of "The Passion of The Christ." Unless you've been visiting Mars, you know "The Passion of The Christ" follows the last 12 hours in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. As a film, the movie is well paced, beautifully shot, and skillfully directed. No matter whether or not you agree with Gibson's interpretation of the events, the movie itself is a beauty.
As far as the message you walk away with... It's going to be totally dependent on your own personal religious beliefs. I'd like to think this movie won't sway anyone's opinion or create hatred toward those of the Jewish faith, but there are always those who take what they see on TV or in movies as the truth. My own religious background is what I consider minimal at best, so what did I walk away thinking? My first thought - and again this is coming from someone without a religious agenda - was the movie is very anti-Semitic. Mel Gibson uses a menacing figure who is clearly representing Satan in scenes throughout the film. This creature (he reminded me of a mix of Darth Maul from "Star Wars" without the make-up and Gollum from "Lord of the Rings") is often seen walking amongst the Jewish crowd. One interpretation of that could be that Gibson wants us to equate the Jews with evil. That's one interpretation. Another would be that the Devil's power is influencing everyone to act against Jesus Christ. I found it strange Gibson felt it was necessary to even include this cloaked figure in the movie at all. The scenes would have played out equally as well had he not added this creature. And I believe the insertion of that character is one the primary reasons why churches should not be telling their followers to 'learn' from this movie.
You couldn't buy the type of publicity this film generated prior to its opening. Whether or not it lives up to that pre-release hype, one thing is certain: Mel Gibson will earn his money back a few times over. He's done an excellent job of promoting the movie, hitting churches early on and providing preview screenings for clergy members Gibson believed would be sympathetic. Marketing-wise, Gibson did everything he could to insure "The Passion of The Christ" has some kind of an impact on audiences and for that, his efforts should be applauded.
GRADE: B- (as a movie, not as a religious statement)