Why do we seem to see these movies only at Easter? Are people only interested in this topic during Lent? And why, oh why, do only 24 reviewers have the time to pass judgment on this film? Baffling to me, especially when NBC thinks it’s good “business” to air Jesus Christ Superstar this Sunday night. One could easily think the East and West Coasts would rather ignore the faith of the Midwest and South. At a cost of only $5 million, this production seems more lavish than I Can Only Imagine, more well performed, perhaps because of Jim Caviezel. It has a great message, not preachy, albeit without the catchy song.
It’s 64 A.D. and Nero is blaming the Christians for the fires in Rome. Paul has been imprisoned and knows he will be put to death. Luke sneaks into the prison and urges Paul to write letters so that he can continue to spread the word of Jesus. Mauritius, the warden of the prison interacts with both Paul and Luke, at first to get damning information on them to present to Nero. Later, he seeks understanding as to why they are willing to mingle with the poor and afflicted, and to die for their beliefs. Mauritius’ family is suffering as his daughter is gravely ill and nothing in the Roman world seems to help.
James Caviezel (Luke) is just made for these roles, his faith can be seen on his sleeve. But, James Faulkner as Paul is every bit as convincing. Notably, he played a Pope in 24 episodes of DaVinci’s Demons. One reviewer referred to Olivier Martinez (Mauritius) as giving a Marlon Brando-like presentation, as if that were a bad thing. Joanne Whalley was Priscilla, a friend of Paul and Luke, a steadying influence among the persecuted Christians. Very solid, she needed more screen time.
We all knew that Rome was a violent place, beheadings and throwing Christians to the lions. Beware that this movie indicates that Christians would be chained high up on walls and set on fire for light. (That was me shuddering!) Another reviewer notes the parallels of the attempted elimination of the Christians by the Romans with the attempt in many countries to eliminate various religions still going on today. It is a fair criticism of this movie that it focuses too much Paul’s last few days and weeks. Paul’s early life as a persecutor of Christians, later a convert, then later a primary purveyor of Jesus’ teachings throughout much of the Roman Empire, are arguably more historically important. Of, course, that can always be Paul, the sequel. In the end, all these movies try to attract an audience. This one performed as expected. But would it have done better if it wasn’t competing against I Can Only Imagine?