Paul, Apostle of Christ - a review

What better time to see an explicitly Christian movie than Easter? With Ready Player One's obvious Gnostic foundations and Blockers' insights into the Book of Revelation, viewers are clearly spoilt for choice. My tip: if you want to see Paul, Apostle of Christ you'd better hurry - once Easter is over the clock'll be ticking down fast on this one.

Set during the early days of the Christian church, the drama here is two-fold. On the one hand, the Emperor Nero has decided to blame Christians for Rome's recent problems - ie, half the city just burnt down - and in some blatant pandering to the law and order crowd he's now having Christians set alight on every street corner. 

On the other hand, the Christian church is having problems of its own, as the first generation of hard core followers are dying out and the church leaders need to come to terms with the fact that they can't simply rely on first hand tales of seeing Jesus in concert to win over new fans.

These are both concrete problems, and a solid grounding for any number of halfway decent films. But director Andrew Hyatt (Full of Grace) decides instead that the real drama comes in dramatising the deeper feelings that come with real faith. How do you believe in something you've never seen and never will? How do you maintain your faith in the face of a society that sees it as evil? How do you turn a collection of characters given little more to do than make frowny faces into a watchable film?

Having Jim Caviezel - Jesus himself from The Passion of the Christ - playing Luke, the Greek doctor and Christian convert who sneaks into the Roman prison where Paul (James Faulkner) is being held to get his last few Christ anecdotes - helps a lot here, as do the convincingly ancient Maltese locations. And in a rarity for this kind of faith-based film, it's not entirely focused on converting unbelievers; while Paul's warden (Olivier Martinez) is set up to be the Roman who comes around to a Christian way of thinking - and he's eventually given a good reason to do so - it's left open-ended as to whether he joins the good guys.

Unfortunately, most of what makes this film interesting remains largely theoretical. The plotting is obvious, the tension half-hearted (despite a soundtrack heavy on ominous drumbeats), and the performances forgettable - unlike the dodgy wigs and shoddy costumes. Faith is seen as a cool balm that soothes all troubles, which doesn't exactly make for gripping viewing; when Jesus is waiting to usher you into eternal life, getting torched alive by a bunch of rowdy centurions just isn't all that dramatic.