Reviewer: Charity Bishop
Considered one of the most authentic and historically
accurate films in the Biblical Collection, Jacob is the
remarkable story of the young man God promised to make
into a powerful nation.
Isaac (Joss Ackland) is reaching the end of his life and his wife Rebekah (Irene Papas) believes their younger son Jacob (Matthew Modine) should receive the blessing traditionally given to the firstborn. The more mild-mannered Jacob is her favorite, but her husband favors Esau (Sean Bean), who is a respected hunter in their tribe. Esau's decision to marry outside the faith of their people and to adopt a different lifestyle has displeased God, or so Rebekah believes, and so when Abraham indicates that soon he is to die, she encourages Jacob to use his father's failing eyesight and some trickery to steal his brother's blessing. This drives a deep wedge between the two sons and forces Jacob to flee their encampment, fearing for his life. He sets out with a fortune but is soon set upon by thieves. That night he experiences a vision from God promising that he will be protected and blessed and someday will return to the land of his ancestors. Emboldened by this vow, Jacob continues on to the household of his uncle Laban (Giancarlo Giannini), where he meets Laban's younger and beautiful daughter Rachel (Lara Flynn Boyle).
Everything Jacob touches flourishes. The flocks and herds increase under his command, the rains come in abundance, and Laban becomes wealthy. Desiring to keep Jacob there in order to benefit from his God's favor, Laban promises that he may have Rachel as his wife if he gives seven years of service. Jacob agrees, not realizing his uncle has no intention of keeping his word.
This film does a very good job in establishing the characters and bringing to life a different, more human side of them. We learn to dislike Laban while admiring Jacob's devotion to his God and his innocent pursuit of the woman he loves. Our compassion for Leah (Juliet Aubrey) is evident while we can also see the moral flaws in Rachel, who tends to be more jealous and conflicted than her older sister. It does focus on the main character but involves the women as well and they become powerful in their own right, as individuals that both draw our fascination and occasionally our frustration. Its approach to the material is respectful and detailed. It has the added benefit of a terrific cast and an immense amount of authenticity when it comes to the lifestyle and traditions of ancient times. It avoids staying indoors too much and grants us a sense of feeling as if we really are living in an encampment. Some of the scenery is absolutely gorgeous and the camera doesn't shy away from wide shots, which allow us to see the barren land that they have made their home. I also liked that took the time to reveal that Jacob favored his younger son by Rachel -- and how that made Leah's children feel. It's a nice way of setting up later events. Only one thing seemed strange to me, and that was the choice of a more soft-spoken actor to play the voice of God. I am accustomed to deep, booming voices in the role but that is just my preference. The scene in which Jacob struggles all night with a messenger of God is very creative and I liked its approach in never showing us just what he was struggling with; it is almost as if at times he is fighting with himself, although there is a presence there.
Though a smaller production and one intended for television, Jacob is a good achievement. It is well written and focused on being historically accurate. It is inspiring to see what becomes of Jacob's faith and his determination to make up for his transgressions. Moments of wisdom glimmer in the depths of his conversations with his wives and sons, and there is something powerful in seeing the story brought alive on the screen. Sometimes we can forget how different individuals in scripture entwine into a larger picture. It made me want to reread his story for myself. If the film accomplishes nothing else, that is enough.
A nude infant is briefly shown being handed around after his birth. The wedding night between Jacob and who he believes to be Rachel involves some kissing behind a sheer drapery, and then them waking up together the morning after. Rachel offers him one of her handmaidens and joins their hands; we learn he has had many children from his wives and their handmaidens.
Two men scuffle and one threatens the other with death; Esau is shown hunting and bringing back animal carcasses. I could have done without watching him gut one; the same goes for a scene in which a donkey falls from a cliff and we see it bounce off the rocks and plummet to its death.
Jacob is shown placing rams on top of sheep to assist in the mating process. Laban has many false gods and is shown consulting them as well as a local seer for wisdom. Rachel steals these gods and hides them in her tent when her father comes for them. One man kisses another on the lips to impart a blessing to him.