The Passion of the Christ (2004)

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Mel Gibson directs Jim Caviezel, Monica Bellucci and Hristo Shopov in this violently realistic retelling of Jesus’s final 12 hours.

Whatever your beliefs and tastes you cannot deny the cinematic craftsmanship on display in this vicious endurance test that Mel produced as a Sunday School lesson. The gory make up effects alone are world class.  It is a punishing two hours on the viewer as Jesus is realistically and brutally lashed, beaten, mocked, driven forward and eventually (in a canny moment of directorial mercy) briefly crucified. Mel makes the wise decision to tell this tale with focus away from Jesus in the first three sections; the first half hour follows Judas’s guilt, the second Pilate’s futile attempts to stop the innocent man from being killed by the mob, the third follows Simon being forced to help carry the cross with Jesus to Calvary and continue to witness the injustice and relentless torture. Only the last 15 minutes on the cross leave us up there to deal directly with Jesus, now near incoherent with pain and blood loss. No more hand holding relatable characters left to be our avatar, this is what Mel wants you to feel the Son of God went through. And as brilliantly made and powerful as it all is, why you’d want to put yourself through these horrors more than once is a question I don’t know the answer to. The campy Omen and Exorcist inspired horror moments near the start are the only respite in terms of entertainment. Hard to fault, difficult to love.

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