Sunday, March 25, 2018

Review of PAUL, APOSTLE OF CHRIST: Mystical Martyr

March 24, 2018

St. Paul is one of the most important saints in the Catholic Church. Aside from his conversion on the road to Damascus and his numerous epistles, I realized that I do not really know any much more details about his life at all. When it was announced that there will be a film about St. Paul out this week (the week before Holy Week), it was one of my first priorities to go and see to learn more about him. 

The setting was the year 67 AD in Rome. The Christians in Rome led by Aquilla (John Lynch) and Priscilla (Joanne Whalley) were in hiding because of intense Roman persecution. Emperor Nero had Paul of Tarsus arrested and thrown into Mamertine Prison, under the wardenship of Mauritius Galla. The Greek evangelist and physician Luke sought to keep the ailing Paul company in his cell, with a secondary purpose to record his memoirs (which was eventually published as the New Testament book "Acts of the Apostles).  

James Caviezel, whom I do not think I saw in another film after he played Jesus Christ in "The Passion of the Christ" (2004), effectively played the beloved St. Luke in this film. I thought the name of Luke should have been in this film's title, as it was about their time together in Paul's final days. The bald, half-blind and frail St. Paul was played by a senior British character actor James Faulkner, who gave a very dignified performance. (The younger pre-conversion Saul was portrayed by Yorgos Paramihos in brief flashbacks.)

With such an encompassing title, I did not expect that the film would only be dealing with the final days in St. Paul's life. While there were some flashbacks employed to show past events, they only chose to show overview scenes recounting his previous cruelty against Christians as Saul, as well as his well-known conversion miracle. I am a bit disappointed at the limited scope of St. Paul's biography here. I did not know Paul died in that manner, so that is something I learned by watching this film.

The film was quite frank about the suffering of the Christians under Roman persecution, but nothing too graphic, thankfully, maybe because of budgetary constraints. They were being burned alive on the roadsides. They were being gathered into Nero's bloody circuses featuring "games" where the Christians were eaten alive by wild animals. The musical score during these oppressive scenes was relentlessly tense and heart-stopping.

Most of the film are philosophical conversations between Paul and Luke. These were very eloquent exchanges between these two learned men which were very well-written by writer/ director Andrew Hyatt that I wished I could rewind the scene and hear them again, in order to be able to commit the beautiful sentences to memory. To their credit, there was attempt at some humor so as everything will not to be too serious and overbearing.

The third major character was that of the Roman official Mauritius, played by French actor Olivier Martinez with a distracting Latino (not Latin) accent. I thought too much time was given to his side story about his over-emotional wife and his very sick daughter. His story arc can be considered rather predictable in that it followed the usual way Roman characters who were affected by Christians. However, the film was not too clear about his final decision of faith by the end of the film.

Overall, the film may feel tedious because of the somber nature of the story and the slow pace of the storytelling.  Of course, all the quiet dialogue also meant that the film may feel inert for some viewers. This problem can be compounded by the very poor lighting (not sure if this is due to the dim projector of the theater I watched in). This made these scenes too dark and difficult to watch, and various bearded characters not easy to recognize at once. The saintly lives being portrayed may have been glorious, but the way their story was told cinematically here not so much. 6/10.

No comments:

Post a Comment