“Paul, Apostle Of Christ” Looks Great, But Needed A Rewrite

When watching “Paul, Apostle of Christ,” viewers will be well-served to remember St. Paul’s words to the early Corinthian Christians: “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong”

Made on a $5 million budget with the star of arguably the most successful Christian movie of all time (the $611 million worldwide grossing The Passion of the Christ, as if you didn’t know). Paul, Apostle of Christ might not sound on paper (or pixels) like a longshot to make its money back.

But it’s really hard to tell who the audience for this movie is. Despite the title, it’s not actually a movie about the life of Paul. But an extrapolated narrative about Luke (Jim Caviezel, the former passionate Christ) infiltrating Rome. That making visits to Paul’s prison cell, and writing the book of Acts.

Meanwhile, as Nero feeds Christians to the lions, the underground community of believers wonders whether it’s best to evacuate and save themselves. Or stay and ensure that at least some people left in the city believe in helping the sick and the poor.

Writer-director Andrew Hyatt has mounted a respectable, classic-style biblical production shot in Malta, with acclaimed British actors dressed like they walked out of Renaissance paintings against authentic-looking ancient ruins.

This is Sony, after all, and not Pure Flix. Hyatt’s nowhere near as bloodthirsty as Mel Gibson. But there are outbursts of violence designed to shock the viewer into viscerally understanding how awful Nero’s reign was: night shoots of prisoners being burned alive feel like Madame Tussaud’s chamber. That of horror tableaus, and at a crucial point in the story a child is beaten to death (this somehow attain PG-13 status. But it has more of the flowing red stuff than one usually sees under that designation).

So it looks good, and the main actors — Caviezel, James Faulkner (Randyll Tarly in Game of Thrones) as Paul, and Olivier Martinez as a Roman soldier who’s not as bad as he appears — give it their all. The problem is really the story; you could easily cut out a good 20 minutes and not lose much. A harsher script edit that force characters to get to the point of a scene more quickly might have help, as might more of a focus on the life of Paul himself, which audiences will expect the movie is promising.

Here’s what I suspect:

Rather than risk offending viewers by inventing scenes of Paul that aren’t mention in the Bible, Hyatt figure it would be easier to augment Luke’s story since he’s more known as an author of the Bible stories than a participant. This way, Paul need only be in scenes where he remembers and dictates events that the New Testament specifically describes, and they can be shot super-vaguely and ambiguously to avoid offending anyone who thinks they might have look different. And since most of what is known about Luke is that Paul refers to him in passing as a doctor in Colossians, Hyatt creates a narrative in which Luke, his protagonist, has to save the day using his medical knowledge and abilities.

Unlike many American faith-based movies, which often target U.S. evangelical Protestants specifically. Paul, Apostle of Christ features themes universal enough that it can travel internationally. No attempt is made to retcon modern messages on to ancient texts (there may be a very subtle nod to the pro-life position in there, but it’s debatable). The dedication at the end to people being persecute for their faith comes across as referring to Christians. Who are actually being kill and imprison in parts of the world, rather than bakers who have to sell gay wedding cakes.

Throughout the story, the message of Paul is that only love can defeat hate. He pointedly rejects any violent rescue or revenge attempts. It’s a call to lay down arms rather than take them up, and may ironically play better in churches outside the United States (one can imagine Pope Francis endorsing it, but perhaps not Franklin Graham).

INFO:

Rating: PG-13 (for some violent content and disturbing images)
Genre: Drama
Directed By: Andrew Hyatt
Stars: Jim Caviezel, James Faulkner, Olivier Martinez
Written By: Andrew Hyatt
In Theaters: Mar 23, 2018 Wide
On Disc/Streaming: Jun 19, 2018
Runtime: 108 minutes
Studio: Affirm Films

CRITIC REVIEWS FOR PAUL, APOSTLE OF CHRIST

Justin Chang
A somber, moving portrait of one of the early church’s most significant figures, who led the way at a time when Christians were being burned alive in the streets of Rome, or condemned to death in the arena.

Bilge Ebiri
Largely devoid of sensationalism, a film that delves quietly into substantive issues of belief and forgiveness.

Peter Debruge
“Paul, Apostle of Christ” struggles to find a compelling entry point to a critical period in the early Christian church …

Marie Asner
The film is atmospheric and don’t expect rich togas, this is plain homespun here.

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