Killing Jesus (2015)
Reviewer: Charity Bishop
Though one of the first films to have an ethnic middle-eastern cast, Killing Jesus is a clunky, boring and at times offensive depiction of the events leading up to the most famous execution in history.
King Herod (Kelsey Grammer) is suffering delusions of grandeur ... and fear of a coming messiah, as indicated by ancient Jewish prophecy. He intends to murder the child if he can find him. And at two years old, baby Jesus is drawing a surprising amount of unwanted attention from people in the small village of Bethlehem. So much so that, fearing repercussions, his father bundles him and Mary onto a donkey and takes them to Egypt for their own safety. Many years later, Herod is dead and his son, Herod Antipas (Eoin Macken) desires to claim the throne.
To do so, he must make peace with the Romans through their new governor, Pontius Pilate (Stephen Moyer). New to the area, he is not all that fond of Judean uprisings and protests against their presence in Jerusalem and his wife wants him to punish any rioters severely for daring to conflict with Rome. Herod Antipas meanwhile has chosen to marry Herodias (Emmanuelle Chriqui), who has her own litany of requests that will advance her own power and that of her teenage daughter.
Jesus (Haaz Sleiman) has heard of his cousin John's preaching in the desert and journeys to see him, in the process learning from John that he has a greater purpose as a "savior of men." He gradually begins to gather disciples and moves toward his destiny, somewhat uncertain of his course through life as it carries him toward betrayal, persecution, and death.
Therein lies the rub, crux, and offensiveness of this piece -- that Jesus and everyone around him apart from John are entirely unaware of his greater purpose. Even his mother thinks he is overstepping himself in this ministry. Jesus founders between roles as a carpenter and an aspiring revolutionary, for a time even considering that he might be a literal messiah intended to raise up an army against the authorities. He appeals to his disciples for reassurances as to what he truly is (the messiah), as if he cannot recognize that in himself. He is baffled at his first miracle, but also delighted. Frightened by a demon-possessed child. Scenes of him healing people and performing miracles are left out. The film has an ambiguous ending -- an empty tomb, but no literal physical manifestation of Christ among his disciples. Did he arise or was he stolen? The movie doesn't tell us.
Bill O'Reilly's book was an intense study of the political arena at the time, the rivalry between the brutality of Rome and the political maneuvering of the Judeans. Some of that is present here, but it never strikes any great depth and chunks of Biblical accounts are left out of the narrative; instead of a sympathetic woman begging her husband to have nothing to do with this Messiah, Pilate's wife spends most of her time complaining and never says a word about Jesus. It's a shame, because there is an excellent secondary cast that includes some big and small screen greats (including Rufus Sewell, John Rhys Davies, and Tamsin Egerton). Here, though, they founder under the weight of a completely banal Jesus, who comes across as obnoxious, abrupt, brooding, and temperamental. His complete lack of chemistry make it difficult to comprehend why anyone would follow him ... away from normality, from their jobs, their homes, and their former beliefs, to their eventual deaths.
Beautifully costumed and somewhat grittier than most
productions, with a varied cast from ethnic actors, this
could have been an intense political glimpse into the
motivations behind the mere mortals that plotted Jesus'
death, not realizing His greater purpose, but when you
remove the divinity of Christ from the equation, it becomes
Herod's stepdaughter mentions that he lurks outside her room at night when she is preparing for bed; she performs a seductive dance for him, in exchange for the head of John the Baptist (swaying hips, some flesh; he kisses her knee seductively). A veiled reference to prostitution.
Babies are slaughtered by King Herod the Great's men (some blood, weeping women, babies disappearing in shot). Jesus is flogged and crucified.