By Tom Quiner
What a scene: Jesus prays in the garden of Gethsemane; Caiaphas prays in the temple to the same God; and Pontius Pilate and his wife pray to their ancestors.
The juxtaposition of these simultaneous events was sheer cinematic drama, and a very creative way for Son of God director, Christopher Spencer to contrast this epic clash of religions. The scene was given added heft by the formidable performances turned in by Greg Hicks as the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, and Adrian Schiller as Jewish high priest, Caiaphas.
“Son of God” is a movie worth seeing. The director throws little twists at us to help us see something fresh and new in the life and death and life of Jesus, the Christ. Take the scene where Jesus meets Matthew, the tax collector for the first time. No one could stand the guy. A pharisee denigrated Matthew, warning Jesus to stay away from him. Peter agreed. And yet Jesus had a different take on the man. Director Spencer had Jesus invoke the scripture passage from Luke 18:11-14:
11“The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12‘I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ 13“But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ 14“I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Actor Said Bey, as Matthew, understood his sins. Jesus’ compassion toward him was profound, unexpected, and unprecedented for a tax collector. The look on his face in contrast with that of the pharisee was powerful. Another brilliant moment in the movie.
Now, here’s the rub. The core audience for a film like this have seen a lot of Jesus movies. We all have our favorites. For me, nothing will ever touch the epic mini series from the 70s, “Jesus of Nazareth.” The legendary director of that movie, Franco Zeffirrelli, one-upped Spencer in his depiction of the Peter/Matthew clash by using Jesus’ telling of the Prodigal Son to bring the men together. The scene from the Zeffirelli telling of the Jesus story was pure genius.
I had to make a conscience decision to let the Son of God rest on its own merits rather than continually compare it to Jesus of Nazareth, the Passion of the Christ, or the Gospel of John, which are my three favorites. Each of them did something special, something epic.
Although the Son of God isn’t in the same league with the films listed above, it holds its own. I particularly like the way the director fleshed out the politics of the age, and the inevitable clash of politics and religion. Again, Pilate and Caiaphas were brilliant. The Romans in this telling of the Jesus story were particularly brutal, not just in their ability scourge and crucify, but in the way they’d deal with disruptions on the streets of Jerusalem. Believe me, you would not want to get on their bad side.
This brings me to Diogo Morgado’s portrayal of Jesus. He was solid. But let’s face it, it’s hard to play Jesus. We all have a preconceived notion of Him that makes it daunting for actors to portray. Morgado looked good, but lacked the resolve and strength that Robert Powell (Jesus of Nazareth) and Jim Caviezel (Passion of the Christ) projected in their portrayals of the Son of God.
I will nitpick on one item: each character had beautiful, pearly white teeth, quite unrealistic for the era. With the number of close-ups used, I did find this disconnect distracting. But this is a small matter.
If you go by what movies critics have to say, you won’t see “The Son of God.” Only 23% give it thumbs up on Rotten Tomatoe’s website. On the other hand, 79% of the audience liked it. It brought in an unexpected $26 million at the box office opening weekend.
I recommend the film. It is entertaining and inspiring. If you want to see more films of faith made, you’d best support this one. Otherwise, Hollywood will keep dispensing their usual fare featuring blood, sex, and violence.