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The Passion Of The Christ Review

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A coruscating passage through the last 12 hours of Jesus Christ's life on Earth, amalgamated from the Biblical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In dramatic terms this takes Christ (Caviezel) from Judas' betrayal in the Garden Of Gethsemane to his crucifixion and resurrection.

★★★★★

Stumbling into the light, having just endured Mel Gibson's two-hour pop-profound blitzkrieg on your senses, religious convictions (or lack of them) and prescribed interpretations of the events leading up to the crucifixion of Christ, first reactions race and ricochet like a pinball. You may feel anger, revulsion, even queasiness at the stinging stretch of bloody martyrdom; frustration at the film's obvious limitations or indelicate undertones; it may even leave a residue of religious contemplation, a return to questions and confusions that scarcely reach debate in our secular times. When was the last time a film managed any of that? There is no doubting the impact. A post-match lie-down in a darkened room comes highly recommended.

Ripping away years of indoctrinated Sunday School niceties, this is a film born less of Christ's message of love than a torrent of unfettered rage. Gibson's Passion is a downward spiralling journey into darkness and despair on an unprecedented scale. So, be warned, it will test your mettle - not least in its determination to have Aramaic and Latin as the spoken languages, leaving English captions to feed the lines. And amongst such vocal verisimilitude there is only the thinnest veneer of the gospels' eloquence, Christ's sanctified poetry to counter the cruelty into which he is delivered. Caviezel is almost mummified beneath layers of prosthetics, skin flayed red raw like an animal carcass, leaving him more symbol than character. The film functions more as a visual experience than an intellectual or emotional one, the actors almost throttled by the significance of their characters.

Meantime, no-one will go into the movie immune to the peals of disgust hurled in Gibson's direction since he first declared his intentions ù principally accusations of anti-Semitism and Catholic propaganda - and, even objectively, they are not entirely unfounded. For too much of the film there is an emphasis on the events as Jewish crime rather than any preordained sacrifice necessitated by scripture. There is also something half-deranged about its depiction of evil - deformed dwarves, mutilated children and storm clouds bloom daftly at the film's ropier fringes. Even Satan pops up as a hooded cue ball, part Sith, part Dr. Evil.

For a film that is so determinedly putting its emphasis on the 'real', this is camp showmanship at its most redundant. Cinematographer Caleb Deschanel was charged with refining the religious depictions of baroque artist Caravaggio (striking works of morbid iconography) for the screen. It's a tough objective, and the film veers between moody, flame-lit arcana and a burnished, draining whitewash daylight sucked dry of scope; a docu-stark antidote to the dreamy twinkle of Cecil B. De Mille or Pier Pasolini's sculptured renditions.

And here lies undeniable power. This is the most brutal, vivid, sustained depiction of torture ever mounted. It shocks and stuns with unflinching clarity. If Gibson's sole purpose was to concoct a literalist depiction of gospel accounts, then he succeeds. The Bible may simply mention 'scourging', but here we watch in agonised minutiae the flagellation of Christ's torso, a passage of sickening physical degradation. Gibson is determined that the holy notion of the body and blood of Christ are given a very carnal context

A tormented movie about torment; loopy, over-reaching and occasionally suspicious. Simultaneously, it is a daring artistic endeavour from a Hollywood star who was driven to put his credibility and lead-weighted beliefs into the court of public and media o