“The Nativity Story” the greatest love story ever told
Not only is it the greatest story ever told, but certainly the most familiar. This may help explain why so few movies on Christ’s birth have come to the big screen, especially in the last few decades. It’s a daunting task to be sure. How to make a big screen depiction of a 2,000 year old story that believers hold so dear, yet provide enough entertainment value to the average movie fan? The good tidings for the faithful is that the “The Nativity Story,” by stripping the biblical passages down to their essence and eschewing unnecessary artistic deviation is that rare Hollywood product-a film brave enough to trust its source material to tell its story simply and quietly. While the film clearly won’t smash box office records, heck it doesn’t have a chance in Hades of even out grossing “Casino Royale” (James Bond is more marketable than Jesus), “The Nativity Story” stands as a testament of earnest filmmaking and has the potential to become the adaptation benchmark of Christ’s birth.
On the surface, we didn’t see this coming from director Catherine Hardwicke whose previous films include the painfully effective teenage-girls-at-risk film “Thirteen” and the skater-punk biopic “Lords of Dogtown.” But Hardwicke’s tenure as a production designer and experience working with young people provide “The Nativity Story” both a remarkable accuracy in the Old World set design and period locales and an authenticity to the characters, especially the teenage mother Mary who’s asked to bear the “God made into flesh.”
Oscar nominated Keisha Castle-Hughes (“Whale Rider”) captures the self-doubt, and tough willed spirit that most certainly would characterize a young woman thrust into such a responsibility when visited in an olive grove by the Angel Gabriel (Alexander Siddig). Also weighing heavily is her betrothal, arranged by her parents Anna (Hiam Abbass) and Joaquim (Shaun Toub) to the eager carpenter and “good man” named Joseph (Oscar Isaac).
The drama intensifies when Mary returns from a visit to her pregnant cousin Elizabeth (Oscar nominated Shohreh Aghdashloo) noticeably with child herself causing tremendous embarrassment for her future husband and orthodox family. In one of history’s most heroic deeds, Joseph decides not to shun his wife and eventually will obey King Herod’s census decree and, under tremendous hardship, make the 100 mile arduous journey back to their birthplace where, finding no room at the inn, their baby will be born in a humble, dirty manger.
Like all great films, “The Nativity Story” elucidates details of even the most well-known of stories providing a gritty (yet family friendly) reality to the dire circumstances of the Nazarene villagers, the murderous treachery of Herod, and the tender relationship between Mary and Joseph. Even devout Christians might not have contemplated the choice moment when Mary and Elizabeth stand face to face contemplating each other’s miraculous pregnancies or the quirky relationship of the three wise man (who provide the film’s primary comic relief) or even that angels may have appeared in broad daylight.
Though “The Nativity Story” is filled with fascinating details that keep the film calmly interesting if not electrifying-the heart of the story which emanates from every frame is a quietly moving one-love. A love borne of duty, sacrifice, and destiny.
Rated PG for some brief violent imagery (crucifixion, implied killings) and thematic elements (childbirth scenes).