Reviewer: Charity Bishop
This film was originally released in
Spain two years ago, until being picked up by a branch of
Fox Faith, the new collection of films generated toward
Christian audiences. Based on an original short story, it
revolves around the aftermath of the crucifixion of Jesus
and the lives that are touched by the influence of His
Tabitha (Mónica Cruz) cannot find her parents one afternoon. The skies are darkening and there have been several earthquakes in the region, but she refuses to cease searching for them, stumbling through the crowded streets only to stop in horror at the sight of her mother crouched at the foot of the stoning wall. She has been caught in adultery with a Roman and must be killed, and Tabitha's Pharisee father (F. Murray Abraham) is the loudest of her accusers. As stones rain down on the helpless woman, Tabitha is dragged away screaming, only to have the crowd scatter as the earth trembles, a quake that reaches as far as the island of Capri where the Roman Emperor Tiberius (Max von Sydow) is spending the last years of his life. Curious as to the meaning behind these odd happenings, he sends word for his most trusted soldier to come to him at once.
Fighting for the preservation of Roman occupation of foreign territories, Tauro (Daniele Liotti) is surprised to be pulled from the heat of battle and sent to Jerusalem, a snake's pit of boiling political discontent and religious upheaval. He is on a secret mission to discover whether or not the Jewish Messiah known as Jesus has truly risen from the dead. Though he travels without accompaniment apart from his servant Brixos (Dolph Lundgren), it is well known to Pontius Pilate (Hristo Shopov) that a secret inquisitor has come to spy on his administration. While the two men wrangle from their positions of power and Tauro attempts to discern the truth by finding believers where he can and questioning them as to whether or not the body of their savior was moved from its resting place, he also meets and slowly begins to fall in love with Tabitha, who, unknown to her father, has decided to follow the Christian faith.
For the most part, this is a decent story and is surprisingly good despite the inadequate budget and awkward dubbing. It's so carefully done that it's hard to tell except in certain scenes, and yet the voices that Fox chose for the task are so far off the original actors that they sound too high pitched. Shopov in particular (whom audiences will know as the Pilate from Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ) has a wonderfully deep and magnetic voice, and whoever dubbed him reminds me of a chipmunk. In that respect, I wish Fox had offered alternative ways to view the film -- dubbed or in its original Spanish with subtitles, since the acting suffers somewhat as a result, as the voices were attempting to match the lip movements and sometimes this makes the dialogue stilted or slow. I imagine the original vocal track is far superior in that respect.
The fighting scenes are painfully staged and look fake and the dialogue is also at times woefully out of period. But the acting is good and the chemistry between Tabitha and Tauro is wonderful. It was fun for me to see so many faces and names brought forth from the Bible. We witness the capture, trial, and punishment of Stephen, as well as the callous behavior of Saul of Tarsus (one day to become Paul). Names like Lazarus and Judas are bandied about, but we are able to meet Mary, Simon Peter, Claudia Procula, and Caligula, played wonderfully by a scenery-chewing Vincenzo Bocciarelli.
I must say that by far the best portion of the film is in the last fifteen minutes, when he takes measures to obtain the throne of Rome and puts into motion the first measures of oppression against the Christians. Shopov is a somewhat more caustic Pilate this time around and events do stray slightly from historical and scriptural representations, but it maintains a good pace and throws in many surprises along the way. I didn't expect some of its twists and was at all times concerned for the characters' welfare. It's not a wonderful film by any means but it's entertaining.
Tabitha is threatened with rape, but is saved.
B*stard is used in context, and "by the gods!" is used as an oath.
We see two separate instances of death by stoning (rocks strike the victim's head). Saul kicks Stephen repeatedly while he lays on the ground, bloodying his face in an attempt to provoke his brother into violence. The Romans destroy a camp and kill everyone there. Tauro stabs one man several times in the chest. In a skirmish over what he believes to be the body of Jesus, other men are killed. A main character takes an arrow to the chest. A man loses his temper and beats his daughter nearly to death with his staff (we see one blow but not the rest). A man is smothered.