(2014)2Perry SeibertA still lengthy 138-minute distillation of the ten-hour television miniseries The Bible, Son of God has all the subtlety of a Sunday-school lesson and will appeal only to those who already want to hear its message.
Diogo Morgado stars as Jesus, who is seen preaching sermons, spreading God's message as far as he can, and acquiring more and more followers. He performs a number of miracles that gain the attention of both the public and the local Jewish leaders, who are concerned because they fear their Roman overlords -- especially Pontius Pilate (Greg Hicks) -- will simply crush the Jews if protests swell. Eventually, Jesus is tried for blasphemy and sentenced to death by crucifixion.
Son of God is being released a decade after The Passion of the Christ, and it's both less problematic and less interesting than Mel Gibson's controversial and highly successful hagiography. The beginning section of the movie plays like an Illustrated Classics version of Holy Scripture, as if the filmmakers are simply checking off a list of greatest hits from the New Testament. Loaves and fishes? Check. Stopping the stoning of a woman? Check. Raising Lazarus from the dead? Check. There is no attempt to make Jesus a person whom viewers can relate to; the narrative is just a collection of famous incidents, which makes Son of God a cinematic sermon rather than a story.
That feeling is accentuated by the film's shot selections, which were obviously dictated by the fact that it was originally made for television. Son of God floods viewers with close-ups, often so tight that we only see faces from the lips to the eyebrows. Because the movie is a recut of a sprawling miniseries, three different directors -- Tony Mitchell, Crispin Reece, and Christopher Spencer -- are credited on the project, and this committee-like approach to the material accentuates the by-the-numbers quality of the whole production. There's never a sense that anyone behind the scenes had any grand passion for this picture -- just a workmanlike desire to appeal to an audience they know will watch it no matter what.
The most interesting and memorable movie versions of Christ's life -- Jesus Christ Superstar, The Last Temptation of Christ, and Gibson's aforementioned Passion to name three -- bring a unique perspective or a radically ambitious artistic design to the story. Son of God offers neither of those things, and the end result is a project shaped with as much calculation for its intended audience as any generic rom-com, comic-book adaptation, or traditional Western.