Barabbas (2013)

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

What happened to the man who literally lived because Jesus died? This three-hour miniseries answers that question as a loosely translated adaptation of a famous novel.

Barabbas (Billy Zane) deserves death as a murderer and a thief, but instead, the mob in Jerusalem screams for his release and demands that Pontius Pilate (Filippo Nigro) execute Jesus (Marco Foschi) instead. Pilate's wife Claudia (Anna Valle), a follower of the messiah, is horrified...

Three years earlier, Barabbas is well known as a scoundrel and thief. He recruits other ambitious men, young and old, to accompany him in his murderous desire to die a rich man, while trying to elicit the attention of beautiful young Ester (Cristiana Capotondi). She resists his advances while following around Jesus of Nazareth, a teacher and prophet. Barabbas soon comes into the company of Kedar (Hristo Shopov), a zealot determined to drive the Romans from Judea.

Just as each step and every encounter not only with the messiah but also his followers takes Barabbas closer to the moment that history will never forget, what transpires afterward will forever change his life.

I have mixed feelings about this adaptation on account of its low production quality and wonderful storyline. It doesn't have a happy ending in a traditional sense and many of the characters are dead before the end, but it does give the audience closure and offers us a well-paced, intrigue-filled supposition on what happened to Barabbas. Some of the plot twists are contrived (more so in their choice of directing style than their ideas) and I had a real problem midway through but overall it moved me. From a writer's point of view places in the script could be improved on; from a moral and logical stance, Ester resisting Barabbas' initial attempt to seduce her because she calls it a "sin against God" only to inexplicably sleep with him a dozen scenes later is baffling. What made her decide it wasn't a sin? She never shows remorse for it, in spite of at that time living in the same household, and professing to follow the teachings of, Christ.

One of the better aspects of the production is the increased presence of Claudia, who is a determining factor in moving the story forward rather than a background figure, and the inclusion of the building resentment against Rome among the zealots. Judas' betrayal is given a different spin here that may be closer to the truth than you might think. There are flaws, the mostly Italian cast for one. Either due to poor talent in general or the difficulties foreigners experienced in filming in a language other than their own, much of the acting is mediocre at best and sometimes downright bad. Since I know so much about the period, the historical inaccuracies bothered me. 30 years also pass in the blink of an eye, without anyone getting older except Peter! (By the time Nero burns down Rome, Pilate and Barabbas should be in their 60's at least!)

Though I enjoyed it, there were two major disappointments for me: there's something very "off" with this presentation of Jesus (I can't explain it, but it didn't work for me), and Pilate is miscast. I wish Hristo Shopov had been used as Pilate (as has been done twice before in The Passion of the Christ and The Final Inquiry) instead of a lesser role, since he not only has more experience and looks more the part of a Roman governor, but also has a good deal more presence. Still, it's worth a watch if Judean Roman historical epics are your thing.

 

Sexual Content:

A man pays to own a woman and rips her gown partially off (we see her bare back); she resists his advances and he loses interest in sleeping with her; later, we see her bare back again and it's implied they have sex (off-screen -- she wakes up beside him); a woman is pregnant outside of wedlock.

Language:

Many uses of "whore," one use of SOB.

Violence:

A woman is stoned to death (partially shown); another is thrown to the ground and kicked to death (unseen); men are whipped and stabbed, as slaves and in rebellions.

Other:

None.