Weak script, while interesting in places. Jesus (by Lebanese actor Haaz Sleiman) is ‘driven’ but also strangely ‘lost’. He acts like the character of Jesus doesn’t know what he is doing most of the time; worse than that, he doesn’t know who he is.
No miracles, no resurrection, no joy.
There is this scene of Jesus speaking with disciple James, sitting down in a room somewhere. It looks to me like the wrong kind of casting. Most of the cast is from the Mediterranean, but the actor playing James comes across as an English/ UK - white guy, with ugly beard stuck on his face and a phony accent (kind-of mirroring the Jesus actor’s speech). Like the Jesus actor, it doesn’t seem that the James actor knows who James is; no spark to his character, no life; nothing that gives us something to remember (other than phony accent, fake beard).
It’s poor acting, but the problem sits deeper, it’s poor casting. James should have been played by another Mediterranean actor; someone who embodies the region and the passion that comes with it.
The problem of bad casting also pertains to the role of Pilate; another UK actor who should not have been in this production. This man is too British, too reserved, emotionally too restrained, not expressive enough. It should have been someone with strong physicality; someone who shows instantly they ‘grew up‘ in the Roman army, physically & mentally strong, and someone who speaks a regional language.
The script is MILES away from the Scripture; why bother making this film, and announcing it as ‘authentic‘ when the script writer(s) have hardly bothered to study the BOOK. What a great shame.
In spite of the serious problems with script, casting, and direction, there are some beautiful scenes in this film, worth seeing. Sadly this film misses the point in the story-arch.
The voice-over at the end off the movie explains to us that it was all one big mis-understanding, a storm in a teacup, a waste of a life (the life of Jesus), apart from the fact that by some (miraculous) unique turn of events, an entire (world wide) RELIGION grew out of this desperate man’s ‘campaign’.
Were the film makers hoping that with their confusing tour-the-force (the film) they would gain a worldwide following (like Jesus did)? It didn’t work out that way; this film went absolutely nowhere, and rightly so; it is good for the bin. Even the tittle is wrong: ‘Killing Jesus’ - this tittle was invented by TV personality Bill O’Reilly (& historian Martin Dugard). O’Reilly has done a series of ‘Killing...’ books (Killing Lincoln, Killing Kennedy etc.). The book ‘Killing Jesus’ is hardly outstanding, but it sold as a book in a popular series.
The film makers decided to use the same tittle (as if based on the book by O’Reilly & Dugard). But with the disastrous script that was produced by Walon Green, it is unclear why there should be that claim (that the film is based on the book). It looks like the producers were simply banking on the publicity that the O’Reilly name had established.
This film is produced by ScottFree Productions, and Ridley Scott is credited as one of the producers. From other Biblical films by Ridley Scott, while he is a brilliant filmmaker, we know that Scott is not interested in any actual Biblical story; he is not a man of faith and possibly anti-christian. He filmed the story of Moses, producing his own version of the story which is quite far removed from the actual Biblical account. “killing Jesus’ follows that same approach.
Billy also writes:
Beautifully made film with a carefully crafted story; fabulous acting by the lead character, impressive landscapes, sets, costumes, crowds and camera work. Excellent music, quality editing, and fabulous images of world-wide artwork depicting Jesus at the end of the movie as the end credits roll across the screen.
It is obvious that this film has some serious craftsmanship behind it, in the way it has been written, produced and brought to the screen; high quality work in many departments, and yet, this movie has some serious problems that spoil the whole adventure. Why did they even bother to make this Jesus film? It came out in 2015; by then there had been so many Jesus films; what’s the point of doing yet another one, especially when the script treats the story of the gospel so very poorly? It’s such a twist of the original story (the one written in the gospel) it’s offensive; certainly to the gospel writer.
But perhaps that was the point to begin with. While Jesus films are popular, and make good money, here is another version, and this one has been secularized so that it can become even more popular. With Ridley Scott and his film company co-producing, it is clear that the twisted script was fully intentional. From the Moses film made by Ridley Scott I have learned that he doesn’t really care for the Biblical story. He prefers to change the story around and ‘make-it-his-own’ and produce a film that works well within the film industry and possibly satisfies Scott’s own preferences (of what makes for a good story, in his view). Never mind about the Biblical story; it gets commercialized, popularized, Scottified, modernized etc. etc. And don’t get me wrong, Ridley Scott is one of my favorite film directors…
Before tackling the modernized script, there’s another problem with the film that bothered me throughout. A problem with CASTING. To have the part of Jesus done by Lebanese actor Haaz Sleiman sets the tone for this film. I warmed to him, even though I wonder about his Jewishness. He knows the scriptures but nothing about him shows his Jewish heritage. He’s more like a Palestinian who knows the Jewish scriptures. Still, I like him; he is wonderfully gutsy and ‘in-the-moment’. A good actor, it seems to me. Interesting casting. This man hails from the middle east himself, and represents the mid eastern culture well.
Many of the characters on the screen were from the Middle East, and that works well in this film. The crowds (the extras) were impressive; mostly local people, I would think. It seemed that these people can speak (and understand) English, which is essential for the crowds to become involved in the drama, and to understand what is going on. All that was well in place, I think, and to the film’s credit. The crowds were impressive!
But apart from actors from the region there were also a bunch of English actors, many of whom stood out like a soar thumb. For instance on Jesus’ team (his disciples) we needed to see more people just like the Jesus actor. The actor playing Peter (Alexis Rodney) was acceptable (where ever he is from); Judas Iscariot (Joe Doyle) also OK, but the actor playing James seemed like a fish-out-of-water. This man should not have been cast into this film; too English; clearly not from the middle east. With a fake beard and a phony accent, I got no sense of an actual character; why it was so important to this ‘fisherman’ to be involved with Jesus.
Why did the casting director not take some local actors, like they chose Haaz Sleiman?
The actors playing Antipas, the Jewish ruler, and Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator, and their wives, all very English looking and sounding actors. Why? It didn’t help the film. These men are too British, too reserved, emotionally too restrained, not expressive enough. The Pilate actor should have been someone with strong physicality; someone who is mediterranean, and who shows instantly they ‘grew up‘ in the Roman army, physically & mentally strong; someone who speaks a regional language.
Were there commercial reasons for putting all these English actors into this movie? UK money behind this film with the condition of bringing in UK talent? The drama would have been so much stronger had all the actors, and therefor the characters, been of Mediterranean descent. I guess the producers wanted to bring a level of civilization to the courts of Antipas and Pilate, and this is how they did it; they gave it an English feel, including making the characters English. How strange. I also wanted to see a distinct difference between the court of Antipas (Jewish ruler) and Pilate’s court (Roman). There isn’t seem much of a difference. Something went badly wrong here, or is it, again, commercial motives that brought us all this ‘englishness’.
A couple of exception should be mentioned here. Rufus Sewell was excellent as Cajaphas. He comes across as Jewish and as someone from the Middle East. John Lynch was good as Nicodemus. The head of the Jewish army was excellent; very mediterranean. The scene he had with Jesus, as Jesus carries his cross to Golgotha, was impressive. But I do wonder, since the crucifixion was a Roman procedure, and Jesus came from Pilate’s seat, to be taken to Golgotha, wouldn’t it be Roman soldiers to take Jesus from A to B. At this point the Jewish Temple guards were no longer involved. So this head of the Temple Guard shouldn’t have been there. But an interesting scene in any case.
The script gives us a carefully crafted story of how Jesus stirs the powers-that-be, the Jewish Temple authorities, the Jewish King, and the Roman Procurator. As Jesus becomes more and more confrontational, the three power-that-be have to ‘negotiate’ between them how to ‘solve’ this problem. That story is well worked-through in this script. Jesus is portrayed as a spiritual man who feels the need to confront the Jewish temple (ultimately Caiaphas) and he challenges himself to remain non-violent, even ‘loving’ as he is up against hatred and destruction in full force.
So, according to this script, the prophet Jesus, continued his push against the Temple authorities to the point where Cajaphas manages to get Pilate to kill Jesus. Once Jesus is dead, the problem is solved. Meanwhile the followers of Jesus are so impressed with their masters sacrifice, that they start a new movement, a new religion. The tomb is empty, and that helps the narrative that this Jesus man was someone very special, perhaps even with special powers, but since we never see Jesus again, after his death on the cross, the script gives the viewer to option of making their own conclusion about Jesus being resurrected or not. At that point in the story it doesn’t really matter anymore, whether Jesus overcame death or not; he overcame hatred, and that is what matters (according to the script).
So this script has taken away everything miraculous from the gospel story, and -in my view- everything that is truly spiritual. The ‘spirituality’ of this movie (this script) sits at the level of Gandhi’s non-violent resistance. So Jesus is a kind-of prophet; he is not the savior, not the son-of-God, not the Messiah from scripture.
That is slightly confusing, in a way, because the Jewish authorities understood Jesus to make that claim (son of God), and that was the very reason they wanted Him dead. Yet, the film treats Jesus as a sweet and sincere advocate for non-violence, someone who challenges the powers of the Temple. Jesus never challenged Antipas or Pilate.
What made the Jesus of scripture such a hugely powerful figure was his many miracles. Jesus performed miracles constantly, healing large numbers of people, and doing all kinds of other miraculous things (walking on water/ multiplying food/ appearing with Moses and Elijah). Those miracles brought huge crowds out to Jesus daily, and these crowds kept growing.
This film leaves all these miracles out. It reduces Jesus to a good man, call him a prophet, a man who stands up against Jewish hypocrisy; someone who proclaims god-is-love, and who will not take up arms. The Jesus of this film didn’t need to be put to death. Cajaphas could have let this Jesus simply run out of steam. Cajaphas could have roughened up the disciples, and most of them would have disappeared. This Jesus was very much like all the other small prophets who had come before him, and all of whom came to nothing.
Scripture talks about these people, and most gospel films feature dialogue along these lines. The Jesus that the gospel writes about came from God directly, and He is a great deal more than a mere man. But this film does not give us that gospel Jesus.
We, the viewer, accepted the death penalty when Pilate gave in to Cajaphas, simply because we know this is how the story goes. But, had the script writers followed through on their own story-line, with their own Jesus, their Jesus should not have been taken to the cross. No need for it. They should have offered him a job.
When a group of followers arrive at the tomb, they find just the grave clothes lying there. Because we all know what happens next in the story, the film-maker (script-writer) now jumps to the conclusion, the Lord has risen; the group of followers all start smiling, and that it; end of story.
At this point we, the audience, sort-of get it, it’s the resurrection without the Resurrection, it’s Jesus, not the Christ, it’s the Scottification of the gospel. Thinking this through I can only conclude that here is an initiative that really doesn’t care about the gospel; this film goes-along for-the-ride with the attention that the name of Jesus brings (to the project); basically a commercial use (abuse) of the gospel story.
At the end of the movie, when the credits role, we see beautiful artwork from around the world, depicting Jesus in all kinds of styles and in bright colors. Here you can see how, over the centuries, artists who are believers have been inspired to produce great images that are powerful and profound (to this day). These artists knew Jesus better than the people who made this movie.
what’s left out
Read any of the gospels, and compare the text with what events (scenes) are in the film and you find a long list of left-outs.
No angel appearing to Mary/ no angel appears to Joseph either/ Herod has dreams of bad spirits; we hear of sorcery, but anything angelic or heavenly is not in the script.
When Jesus is baptized there is no crowd; only John and Jesus/ no spirit descending.
All healings and miracles are left out/ Jesus didn’t hand out bread & wine at the last supper/ I’m not attempting to write a complete list, but I find it telling and shocking to see how MUCH is left out. Everything super-natural is left out; all that pertains to the divinity of Jesus. No resurrection, no Jesus appearing to the disciples or others, no Jesus speaking to Peter, no ascension.