Directed by: Mel Gibson
Written by:Benedict Fitzgerald, Mel Gibson
Starring: James Caviezel, Monica Bellucci, Claudia Gerini, Maia Mogenstern, Sergio Rubini
Released: February 25, 2004
Grade: A-

Released on Ash Wednesday, Mel Gibson’s The Passion Of The Christ is already the most talked about cinematic event of the year.  The film has been engulfed in controversy with some religious leaders claiming it falsely accuses the Jews as being responsible for Jesus’ death.  Religion is such a touchy subject and Gibson has taken a big career gamble in making this motion picture.  I confess it’s been many years since I’ve read the Bible so I will not enter into the heated debate over the film’s accuracy.

The Passion Of The Christ depicts the final twelve hours in the life of Jesus Christ.  The film begins with Jesus being arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane and concludes with his ultimate death on the crucifix.  Gibson wanted the film to be shot in the language of the time and at first, he didn’t even plan on having subtitles!  Thankfully for those of us who don’t speak Aramaic, Latin or Hebrew, they have now been included.  If you’re one of those moviegoers adverse to reading words off a screen, try to put aside your doubts as in no way do the subtitles detract from the story.

Now that the film has been released, the talk has switched from its factual accuracy to its graphic violence.  Leading American critic Roger Ebert describes it as “the most violent film I have ever seen” and here in Australia, David Stratton of The Movie Show labels it “the most relentless violent film I have ever seen”.  I dare not argue.  I guarantee that some will walk out of your screening.  The flogging, whipping and scourging of Jesus does not stop for over an hour.  Its highly questionable MA rating (open to anyone over the age of 15) is already raising eyebrows.

Taking on the leading role is Jim Caviezel, one of those guys who probably won’t know by name but may recognise by face.  His major roles to date have been in Frequency and The Count Of Monte Cristo but this film will surely be his signature.  He doesn’t say a lot but you will feel his suffering.  I do hope he is not overlooked this time next year when the award season begins again.  The only other actor you may recognise is Italian starlet Monica Bellucci (The Matrix Reloaded, Irreversible) but as Mary Magdalene, her talented was underutilised.

Braveheart won Mel Gibson the best director Oscar and The Passion Of The Christ is validation of this honour.   He is relentless in his pursuit of a vision and will accept nothing second rate.  I wish that a few other directors in Hollywood shared his passion and enthusiasm.  He is backed by an experienced crew and I single out cinematographer Caleb Deschanel (Fly Away Home) for his beautiful camera work.

I was certainly entranced by the film but do feel a little more substance was required.  I would have preferred the film to begin earlier along the timeline so as to learn more about the supporting characters rather than watch repeated floggings.  I also question the suitability of John Debney’s music score which at times is too loud and melodramatic.

With no leading stars and costing over $30m, The Passion Of The Christ was tipped by some to be a financial flop.  I guess as the saying goes - any publicity is good publicity.  Released in America over the weekend, early estimates show the film will gross in excess of $114m in its first five days.  This ranks it amongst the top 10 biggest openings of all time.  Already heavily discussed, you sense this is a film they will still talk about in the many years to come.