Blessed be the cinema. At least for a little while, Christian film fans can celebrate some Biblically-themed films like the new release “Son of God” and the upcoming “Noah.” In a few months, faith-based films such as “Heaven is Real” (Starring Greg Kinnear), and “God is Not Dead” will arrive as well. Many will pray that such films will be successful, and that success usually starts with the quality of the film.
“Son of God” certainly preaches to the choir and is designed to appeal to the previously converted. It is a beautifully shot, well-acted film that raises the bar in the New Testament re-enactment genre. While it is not as visceral as Mel Gibson’s interpretation and is significantly less graphic, it is no back-handed compliment to describe “Son of God” a more temperate “Passion of the Christ.”
It is always dangerous to tinker with sacred material, and this version will no doubt provoke mild controversy about some of the things in Jesus’s life that were left out (Satan’s temptation in the desert, important miracles, etc.), and the dialogue will seem overly casual to those who’d prefer a literal recital of the beautiful King James Version—particularly with the many British actors on board here.
But the filmmakers, director Christopher Spencer and producers (and husband and wife) Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, who also stars as Jesus’s mother Mary, are the same people who brought the hugely successful miniseries “The Bible” to television last year. On “Son of God,” they didn’t mess with what worked before, basically creating a compilation of the New Testament portions of their show and editing them together. That hurts the “Son of God’s” continuity, but it’s not like the four gospels are a mystery to anyone.
That’s the challenge when working with material so well known. “Son of God” features only a few surprises and isn’t trying to be edgy or challenging, (hence the drubbing by many film critics) but the almost completely unknown cast is fantastic, perhaps the best ever assembled for a Christian film.
No one portraying Jesus will satisfy everyone, but Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado evokes a gentle, handsome Nazarene who has a piercing but loving gaze, and at times is surprised by his own power. Darwin Shaw (Peter), Adrian Schiller (Caiaphas), Greg Hicks (Pilate) bring credible gravitas to their roles with excellent support by all of the apostles.
The pacing here is better than the occasionally long-winded miniseries. The cross-bearing and crucifixion scenes are bloody, but they stop short of being gratuitous while still displaying the brutal reality of the seminal event.
“Son of God” isn’t game-changing enough to convert the stubborn non-believer or overly-demanding film fan. But that isn’t its purpose. “Son of God” is an earnest, moving testimony that will lift the spirits of those who already believe and are grateful to see “the greatest story ever told” finally back on the big screen.
Rated PG-13 for intense and bloody depictions, and some violence.