Paul Apostle of Christ (2018)

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

One of the most influential men in history, Paul is a never-ending source of debate in the Church, from arguments over what he meant in his theology, to being upheld as an example of how a life can change with salvation. Paul, Apostle of Christ is the latest attempt to delve into his last days.

Christians endure tremendous persecution in Rome since the city burned to the ground. Desperate to console them and learn what is happening, Luke (Jim Caviezel) slips in under the cover of darkness to enter the house of Priscilla (Joanne Whalley) and Aquila (John Lynch). He hopes to enter the Roman prison and visit Paul (James Faulkner), to uplift his spirit and learn as much as he can from him, to help their brethren elsewhere. As he awaits execution, Paul ponders his mistakes, haunted by the ghosts of his past, while under the studious watch of Mauritius (Olivier Martinez), his jailor.

Unsure whether to remain in Rome and help the refugees or flee for their lives, Priscilla and Aquila bicker about the best way to help their friends, while Luke asks Paul to reveal truths to him, for a series of letters...

I wanted to enjoy this movie, and in some ways it's good; the emphasis on the martyrs and persecution of believers in Rome, and including Priscilla and her husband as major characters is a new approach that brings a freshness to this story. The costumes are decent and the actors good, ranging from lesser known faces to more familiar ones (such as Caviezel, who is a charismatic and enjoyable Luke). But I had some issues with the story itself. First, it implies Paul has spent his entire religious life obsessed with and haunted by his failures, in his pre-conversion days; he has nightmares and flashbacks about murdering people, and is haunted by his victims in his dreams. He's depressed and wracked with guilt as a result -- something the real scriptural Paul never seemed to suffer from; if anything, the real Paul was argumentative, charismatic, and firm on his conviction that salvation absolves sin. This Paul does not argue, nor plead his case, nor guide anyone, so much as he (in a mellow way) accepts his fate. When he does share wisdom, he's profound -- and it's telling that all those moments are direct scriptural quotes!

Second, I realize it's a popular technique of filmmakers to cover up cheap sets with darkness, but the filter over the camera makes everything drab, colorless, and joyless; I expect darkness in a dungeon, but not in broad daylight. Does the sun ever shine in Rome? Even the garden Paul meanders through is bland! The emphasis is all on suffering and martyrdom, rather than redemption and hope... which means the movie is sobering and depressing. Even the final scene of 'forgiveness' takes place in a barren landscape... is there no color and vegetation, even in heaven?

Sexual Content:
Christians are fed to the lions and forced to fight in arenas (off screen), set on fire and burned to 'light' Rome (on screen); flashbacks to religious persecution -- people being stoned, stabbed, and massacred; implications that Saul murdered a little girl; a boy comes home beaten half to death and dies; an execution (ax comes down, camera moves away).

References to Greek and Roman pagan gods.