Filipinos know the story of Jesus's passion and death very, very well. We recall these sorrowful events every year since our childhood during the yearly Lenten rituals we perform and Lenten movies we watch. Owing to its simple, audience-friendly, homespun style, this latest film about Jesus entitled "Son of God" is bound to join the list of classic religious films the whole family can watch and meditate on during the seasons of Lent and Easter.
"Son of God" covers everything from the Annunciation, the Birth in Bethlehem, His ministry, passion, death and resurrection and the beginning of the early Church with Paul and Ananias. Initially it would play like a documentary, with a narrator telling the story in between scenes. But starting from scenes with the adult Jesus, narrations were not needed anymore. Towards the end though, narrations were needed again to tell the stories about the early fathers of the Church.
The actors were all unknown to me, no big stars here. The casting and acting was predictable. The good characters look and act kindly. The bad characters look and act evil. All the events happen more or less in the order we know it. We hear most of the verses we expect to hear. They may not be said in the same context as it was in the Bible, but the effect is generally the same. Yet, despite being so familiar, it still remains compelling to watch.
Jesus is played by Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado. He has a calm and gentle face, with smiling eyes. From the first time we see him at his Baptism at the Jordan, to his crucifixion, death, and resurrection, Morgado's portrayal of Jesus, while in no way as intense as Robert Powell's or James Caviezel's, is still very much on point. He should be favorably appreciated by the faithful. He plays Jesus with kindness, humility and dignity.
It turns out that the actress who plays the older Mother Mary is Roma Downey, who was in the inspirational TV series "Touched by an Angel" and one of the producers of the History TV series "The Bible" from which this movie was derived. She was very effective in her portrayal of the Lord's suffering mother during the scourging at the pillar, the way of the Cross to Calvary. Her Mary will move us to tears.
I believe this movie will be a Holy Week staple from this year onwards for my family and for many other Catholic families. This is the version of Jesus' life and death most of us know by heart. The good intentions of this film's makers radiate through and touch the viewers. This version is safe, straightforward and uncontroversial, with violence mercifully muted for younger viewers. This film may be judged as plain in the artistic sense, but artistry is probably not as much its intention as it is to inspire. 8/10
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."