Opening this week is Son of God, a 20th Century Fox Film directed by Christopher Spencer, with Executive Producer Roma Downeyand Producer Mark Burnett of The Bible TV mini-series. Told in candid and simple manner, Son of God begins with the birth of Jesus and covers his life’s trials, joys and tribulations as written in the Bible including his death and rising from the tomb.
Many critics have complained about Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado’s performance for various reasons. Perhaps they didn’t understand the motives or intentions of his character Jesus in the first place. Downey said one of the biggest themes in this film is Love.
“It’s impossible not to be moved by the love of Jesus as He walks into the lion’s den of Jerusalem to take on the power base, and save his people. In this movie meek does not mean weak,” she said.
It’s hard to ignore that Morgado is a handsome man, but I found his portrayal perfect. As Jesus, he’s full of love, and whenever he can, helps someone in distress to look at alternatives in a soft and friendly way. When he’s in the midst of political situations – the other theme of the film – with those such as the hypocritical Pharisee Caiaphas (Adrian Schiller) or Pontius Pilate (Greg Hicks), he calmly retorts them with wisdom and knowledge rather than anger.
Cinematographer Rod Goldie helped with this characterization by expertly capturing Morgado’s humility – a quality that he infused into his character. Morgado also benefits from visual effects by Garrett Honn and James Jordan. Still, Morgado knew he faced a daunting task with this role.
“There’s no way to prepare properly to portray Jesus Christ,” Morgado said. “I decided to just let the Spirit come through me, authentically.”
Goldie precisely captured the backgrounds in Morocco that brought these locations to life. With each scene he filmed, it made the characters in that scene even more fulfilling of the written word.
Other actors played their parts well. Darwin Shaw has a dual personality to unveil as Peter, but does a solid job with the juxtaposition. Hicks, too, is excellent in his portrayal of Pilate, the fifth prefect of the Roman province of Judaea and the judge who presided over the trial of Jesus. Pilate must have had a premonition of the wrath of God coming, which resulted in his choice not to make the final decision about killing Jesus.
Mary is portrayed by Downey as a woman more in the background during Jesus’ walk as a prophet. Not until the cruel Crucifixion scenes do we see Mary’s extreme pain and frustration.
The scenes before and on the cross are hard to watch but not as severe as in The Passion of the Cross (2004). Here, Spencer makes good choices in keeping the shots short and also focusing on the crowd gathered around.
The script by Colin Swash and a few others has an effective arc in creating dialogue that comes from scripture, but in this film seems more modern for better understanding. When Jesus makes Peter walk on water and is questioned what will happen next, Jesus replies, “We will save the world.” These are probably not the words Jesus spoke but a voice today easily understandable.
Married couple Burnett and Downey achieved success with their History Channel's Bible series – part of which was used in this film. Its premier attracted 13.1 million viewers, topping American Idol's 12.8 million viewers on Wednesday of the same week. Downey is also an Emmy and Golden Globe nominee for her role in TV’s Touched by an Angel.
Burnett -- named one of the world's most influential people by Time Magazine -- is the executive producer of five network television series and TV shows that regularly air in more than 70 countries. His current series are Survivor (2000), The Voice (2011), The Apprentice, Shark Tank (2009) and People's Choice Awards. His projects have earned 98 Emmy nominations, and he’s authored eight books.
The couple’s combined expertise in show business illustrates they know how to create compelling and cinematic storytelling that is gritty, dramatic, powerful and inspirational. As I waited outside the door of the theater on the night I saw Son of God I could hear the comments about the film from exiting moviegoers to the three PR reps waiting with notepads. The proficiency of Downey and Brunett’s goals and follow through was not lost on this audience as I repeatedly heard the words “powerful,” “extraordinary,” “amazing,” “wonderful,” “I loved it,” and “It made me cry.”
Downey said, “Audiences nationwide sit in their seats at the end of the film, unable to move. They are transfixed at what they have just experienced. It’s the story of Jesus for a whole new generation.”
When I moved to the side of the theater to scan the audience as I often do, I was surprised to discover that Downey was right. I had never seen an audience so quiet, so enthralled. Not one cell phone was on, and other than those who were wiping their eyes, no one was moving.
Christen films have a built in audience, but with the success of The Bible series and prescreening of Son of God, Burnett and Downey hope to reach more non-believers as well.
“It will resonate with today’s audiences,” Brunett said. “Son of God feels contemporary because the characters are presented in such a relatable way. It has characters that you feel like you know. Everyone, except Jesus, is human and deeply flawed, and that’s relevant to all of us.”
Burnett, Darwin Shaw, Morgado
Noted Pastor Rick Warren said, “I’ve seen most of the films about Jesus produced in the past 50 years. Son Of God stands alone, in a class by itself. It’s a powerful and poignant movie, the best Jesus movie I have ever seen.”
I have to agree. The movie has excellent production values, is touching, poignant and for sure an all-around family film. At the time of writing this critics gave it a 23% rating, audience 82%. Someone is "not" doing their homework.