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Paul, Apostle of Christ

2018-03-23 15:28

What it's about:

It has been a few decades since the life of Jesus Christ and as Rome suffers under the capricious boot of Emperor Nero and its small Christian community is outlawed from practising its faith, Jesus' most influential apostle, Paul, sits in prison waiting for his execution for alleged crimes against Rome. As the Christians of Rome confront their own destiny and are forced to choose between staying, fleeing or fighting, Paul recalls his own life and his own turn from one of the greatest persecutors of Christians to a devout follower of Christ, to his disciple, Luke. 

What we thought:

Ah, here we are again: me, a nice(ish) Jewish boy reviewing a Christian “faith” film for this secular website. Unlike most “faith” films, however, I don't come entirely to just burn this thing to the ground. 

Unsurprisingly, like any work of art since, oh, Beethoven that is more about expressing religious faith than about making a piece of real art for its own sake (or even entertainment for its own sake), Paul, Apostle of Christ is unimaginative, safe and with almost no appeal to anyone outside of its very specific target audience of devout Christians. Noah, this isn't. On the other hand, unlike the vast, vast majority of these “faith” films, it's really not bad for what it is. 

There is some of your usual preachiness of their being no Salvation but through belief in Christ and all of it is so unabashedly earnest that it's hard not to laugh – especially when its general aesthetic is so very similar to Life of Brian (we only needed a cry of “thwow his to the floor, Centuwion!” to complete the illusion). And, yes, once again, the Jews don't exactly come off all that well even if a) we're reduced to just a few priests and b) since we don't really believe in conversion out of Judaism, we still consider Paul (or Saul, as he was once known) one of ours. I know that a number of Jewish leaders were... less than ideal during the Second Temple period (though we had some ace sages at the time) but c'mon...

The good news, though, is that it actively avoids many of its genre's worst pratfalls. For a start, it's reasonably well made, with strong production values; solid, if straightforward, direction by Andrew Hyatt, and a perfectly good narrative that may be based on conjecture, if not outright fiction, but is steeped enough in both a fascinating historical period and the story of one of the New Testament's greatest figures, to hold the attention of even non-Christians. 

Speaking of which, while the big casting news here may be that Jim Caviezel has returned to the Biblical stage – though “demoted” from Jesus to Luke – a large part of why the film works at all is the pretty fantastic work done by James Faulkner in the title role. He brings real gravitas and, most crucially, a sense of both inner peace and a life hard lived to his portrayal of this most iconic of Christians and, though most of the acting in the film is decent or better (special mention to Olivier Martinez as a very French but very compelling Mauritius) but Faulkner entirely own the film.

Paul was, as anyone even remotely interested in comparative religion can tell you, perhaps the most important person in defining what Christianity as a religion would look like for thousands of years so it's a pity that the film doesn't really get into that aspect much at all, but the film does at least ensure that the humanistic values of love, peace, sacrifice and forgiveness espoused in his writings still shine through the more Christian particularities of Salvation through Christ. This is a film very much for the devoutly Christian but unlike most of its kind, you actually won't feel too alienated by it if you happen to be, say, an atheist, a Buddhist or a Muslim. Or, yes, a relatively practising Jew.   

And that's the real miracle of Paul, Apostle of Christ. It may be heavy-handed, platitudinous, hilariously earnest (though otherwise almost entirely humourless) and just a little bit naff, but it's appeal to Christians doesn't entirely undermine its appeal to non-Christians. It doesn't have the blood-letting or controversy of something like Passion of the Christ to actually appeal to non-Christians but it could at least do so in theory. A little bit, anyway.

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