"Killing Jesus", Along With Subtlety Review

Now he acts out the prophesy?

How did you think this was going to go? When you typed in the words, looked for the review, what did you hope to find? Answers? Reasons? Praise? Persecution? I'm not sure any review can give you what you seek. For all of the culture wars on Christianity, the previews for National Geographic's Killing Jesus (2015) show a considerable catalogue of Christian cinema distributed by Fox alone. To this list, another is added, as promised in the prophesy set down by the great producer in the sky, "If they come, we will build it...again and again and again." And so it was written and so it was, that the greatest story ever told was retold, but this time from the exact same perspective as it has always been conveyed with the same questionable over-acting and plot jumps. "Once more into the breach, dear friends," cried Bill O'Reilly. And lo, it sure was.

Sit ye down and let me tell you the story of Jesus. King Herod had a bad dream--wait, let me tell it my own way--and so he killed all the newborn boys except for the one that got away (somehow). This boy (Jesus) was shown a pretty necklace and he tried to snag it, thus proving to all who saw that he should be the king of the Jews--now I say that, that seems kinda racist. So, his parents take Jesus away for about 30 years and then come back and that's when stuff really kicks off. Jesus (Haaz Sleiman) meets his cousin John (Abhin Galeya) and starts preaching. Things don't go well for John and Jesus's preaching gets a little messianic and he starts putting together a group of followers. All the while, some miraculous business is happening around Jesus and people think he's a remarkable person. But when his preaching starts to encroach on the power of the Pharisees, like Caiaphas (Rufus Sewell), a plot is put together to have Jesus stitched up for some crime or other. This comes to pass and Jesus is crucified, put in a tomb, and then disappears.

The best one can say for Killing Jesus with respect to its originality, the screenplay by Walon Green (presumably inherited from O'Reilly and Martin Dugard's book) is the ambiguity of Jesus's divinity. If you want to think it's all historical stuff, you can certainly continue to do so, though the only characters to entertain this are rather smug about it. Any ambiguity on the part of the actors' performances, is probably unintended by director Christopher Menaul. The actors are a bit like amateur players doing Shakespeare in the Park in some mid-sized city. They know these lines pretty well, they've heard them often enough, so they know how to make the sounds, but they certainly don't know how to act with realism. There's one particularly laughable moment when Jesus is closing out his Sermon on the Mount with the Lord's Prayer--which every Christian knows to a hypnotic T--where the camera zooms in on Jesus and the rhythm of the score builds and builds until the band of listeners begin to weep openly at Jesus's orating skill. This is laughable because Mr. Sleiman's energy is lethargic and routine. As Jesus, he preaches about as well as one of the guys on the subway, with the same magnetism.

The film begins with some hint that this retelling would be a little different, a little more real. But once Jesus returns from Egypt, it's clear that whatever pretentions or aspirations it had were compromised. There's a moment where Jesus is having a necklace jangled in front of him--the wise men are not introduced or given lines to read or Angels saying "Fear not!"--where an impressionistic film might have begun. That would have been different. That might have been sophisticated, letting audiences engage with the story more-or-less on their own. But quickly, the script starts hitting each familiar beat, making the film impossible to simply watch because you're waiting for each well-known fact to get ticked off. This is where Mary comes in, this where Judas is tempted, this is Peter denying, etc. Thus, there is no seamless narrative, massaged by a writer, but a mocked-up rendition by a stickler for details. That is, without the unmistakably miraculous. Maybe that makes all the difference.

Bonus features

This Blu-ray is absolutely teeming with bonus features. There are the National Geographic promotional shorts, that include "What it's like to play Jesus: Getting into character with Haaz Sleiman", "Stephen Moyer on Playing Pontious Pilate", and other like character interviews. Then there's "Killing Jesus: The Costumes"--should have gone with "Killing It on Killing Jesus"--one on women's costumes, Killing Jesus: Behind the Production, Filming in Morocco, "The Power Struggle of the Time", and Behind the Scenes: Killing Jesus. Finally, there are the trailers for other religious things from Fox and a trailer for Killing Jesus.

"Killing Jesus" is on sale June 2, 2015 and is not rated. Drama. Directed by Christopher Menaul. Written by Walon Green. Starring Haaz Sleiman, Rufus Sewell, Stephen Moyer.

Jason Ratigan • Staff Writer

A lawyer-turned-something-else with a strong appreciation for film and television.  He knows he can't read every great book ever written, but seeing every good movie ever made is absolutely doable.  Check out his other stuff on Wordpress.


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