At the time of writing, Mel Gibson's Christ movie - sorry, The Christ movie - is hoofing up the proverbial media shitstorm. It's attracted all the expected religious controversy, been tagged anti-Semitic and condemned for its video nasty levels of violence. Yet on its well-timed Ash Wednesday US release, it proved a box-office buster like no other movie in the Jesus-pic subgenre.
Clearly, a lot of people out there are drawn by the controversy, while church groups have been block-booking entire theatres. But, unlike Pasolini's The Gospel According To St Matthew or even Scorsese's The Last Temptation Of Christ, this Jesus pic's the first to be made by a household name. Something, you'd suspect, ol' Gibbo was well aware of. With his own distribution company disseminating the celluloid, the devout Catholic A-lister has allowed himself every artistic freedom - having all the dialogue in Aramaic and Latin, for example - knowing his name on the poster would keep ticket sales at least respectable.
But is The Passion Of The Christ, as Gibson believes, a movie people need to see? Not massively. Non-Christians unfamiliar with the New Testament are more likely to be confused than converted, with the entire film focusing tightly on the `Son Of God's' final 12 hours, occasionally flitting back to events like the Last Supper via flashback. The story, not to mention Jim Caviezel's painful, heartfelt performance, suffers from a lack of context, feeling like a stranded third act populated by characters we're all expected to know already. As for the converted audience members, well, they're happy to be preached to anyway.
Which doesn't mean The Passion isn't interesting. The use of Aramaic was a smart move, a good tool for uniting a very international cast without accents clashing everywhere, and it does lend at least a veneer of authenticity. Plus, of course, you do get to see what all the fuss was about.
Gibson's interpretation does direct more blame at the Pharisees than at the Romans, but there's no overt anti-Semitic message. However, detractors do have a point when they describe the violence as pornographic. A bit of claret's to be expected, but endless shots of Jesus being flogged, flailed and hideously brutalised only serve to desensitise.
Even more offensive is Gibson's gratuitous use of glossy, actioner-cliché slo-mo. By the seventh time you watch a blood-caked, cross-carrying Caviezel dive slowly into the dirt, you'll be stifling yawns. Bizarrely, it's kind of like watching a Michael Bay movie - only without the melodramatic rock music...
A bit of a puzzler, this. No denying Mel's faith and passion, but as for his sense of style... A ballsy vision of the crucifixion, but not a great one.