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Son of God: Their Empire, His Kingdom, reviewed by Daniel Snape

The second half of the film focuses on Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the Last Supper and his trial and crucifixion. The solemnity and emotions evoked in the Last Supper scenes are powerful and effective at drawing the viewer into the feelings that the disciples must have been experiencing when learning that their master was to be led to his death. Skillfully juxtaposed are Judas’ descent into betrayal and distrust and Nicodemus’ ascent from suspicion to ultimately awe and belief in who Jesus claimed to be.

The torture and crucifixion scenes are largely what must have lead to the PG‐13 rating and while they amply convey the brutality and cruelty of what Jesus must have gone through, they are not so graphic as to be inappropriate for older children. In many respects, this is intended to be a family movie but it is impossible to ignore the reality and the horror of the cross. Heart wrenching scenes of Jesus collapsing under the weight of the wooden beams he must carry and then of him ultimately crawling towards the cross he must be nailed to, suggest that Jesus knew what he must do and that he had no intention of avoiding his destiny.

Casting such a film is always difficult as many of these biblical characters are easily typecast. To a certain degree, this seems to have been the case with the choice of Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado as Jesus. Morgado captures very well the compassionate, mild and meek side of Jesus but his interpretation never goes far beyond these traits and so produces a rather two dimensional portrait of Jesus. Even as he is cleansing the temple there is barely a flash of anger or righteous indignation as the Gospel accounts lead us to understand and when Lazarus is brought back to life Jesus almost looks surprised at what has transpired! The often blunt encounters with the Pharisees are never portrayed as such and so in a sense, some of Jesus’ fire and passion are lost to the audience.

Far better cast are the disciple Peter, played by Darwin Shaw and Greg Hicks as Pontius Pilate. Shaw does a fine job showing Peter’s humanity and frailty while also conveying his bravado and courage. Greg Hicks gives Pilate a gritty and self–‐serving edge that manages to show the complexity of his character. Often it is tempting to view Pilate in a sympathetic light as one who ultimately tried to defend and free Jesus. The reality was likely far different as the film successfully conveys. This Pilate is brutal, selfish and ultimately only concerned with retaining power and avoiding Caesar’s wrath.

The film is well shot and thoughtfully directed in a way that allows the motion picture to hold its own by Hollywood standards. First century Palestine and the culture of the times are captured well although no doubt historians will find points to grumble on. Perhaps a little more time could have been spent on making the Temple look more real as it is clearly CGI. The sound track helps give the film a grand, epic feel and it is in safe hands with master film composer Hans Zimmer at the helm.

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Category: Living the Faith, Pneuma Review, Spring 2014

About the Author: Daniel P. Snape, D.Min (Boston University School of Theology), M.Div. (Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary), Senior Pastor of Community Congregational Church, Billerica, Massachusetts. He also works and ministers as a chaplain in the Boston area. Facebook.

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