December 3, 2006

Movie Review: The Nativity Story

With the unbelievable success that Mel Gibson had with The Passion of the Christ, a few years back, it only seems logical that a big studio would try to replicate. It is almost an ideal way to follow that up with the story of Christ's birth. That is exactly what New Line Cinema has done here. There are a lot of similarities between this film and the one that Mel made. Among those things are the religious nature, the fact that it could play to those of multiple faiths, concerns an important moment in the life of Jesus. However, there are some key differences, primarily the lack of blood, the lack of torture, the lack of the family audience, and above all the lack of controversey.

I really wanted to like The Nativity Story. It is a story that seems to be perfect for translation to the big screen, however this incarnation does not feel as if it has taken advantage of the possibilities. That said, the film is faithful to the story as told in the Bible. There is nothing here that could possibly be seen as offensive, and nothing that takes a chance, if anything director Catherine Hardwicke and writer screenwriter Mike Rich play it too safe. Now, I am not asking for controversy, but perhaps something the make the people and dialog seem less put on and more real.

As I sat in the darkened theater and watched the film unfold before me, I could not help but feel as if I was watching a play rather than a movie. Now, I recognized lines from the Bible, and parts that I remember from my own readings, but something that the Bible is full of, is dialogue that does not sound real. This may be due to the variety of translations, or perhaps because that the way we speak has changed so much over the past 2000 years. I would not have had a problem if the words were written in more easy fashion. That may compromise the integrity of remaining faithful to the story, but it may have made the experience a bit more enjoyable.

The film begins with King Herod sending the troops out to kill all of the sons of Jerusalem under the age of two. He was fearful of the prophecy of a King to lead the Jewish people, he was deeply disturbed over his potential loss of power that he set out to slaughter innocent children. This is a curious place to start the film, especially after it is revealed to be a flash forward as the scene shifts with the title card "One Year Ago," as we pick up with Mary.

The Nativity Story is the story of the first Christmas (a day which was most likely not December 25th). It tells of Mary and the appearance of the Angel Gabriel announcing to her that she has been chosen to be the Mother of the Messiah. As any young girl would be, Mary was scared, but she had faith in what the plan was for her. The story follows as she is set to be married to Joseph, a young carpenter. Before the marriage is set to occur, she visits her older sister, Elizabeth, who was thought too old to bear children, yet was pregnant with John the Baptist. This is followed by the journey of Joseph and the very pregnant Mary to Bethlehem for the census. The journey concludes with the arrival of Jesus, born in a stable, the only room available to them, and the arrival of the shepherds and the three wise men to worship the newly born King.

The three primary threads are weaved together rather sloppily. The transitions seemed to be abrupt and I cannot say I truly got a feel for Herod and his son and their problems, nor did I get the relationship of the wise men. The jumps seemed to be odd and lacked in flow, it kind of took me out of the moments.

I don't know, I was just hoping for something more. After it was all over, I felt underwhelmed byt the journey. Again, it was like watching a play, I did not get any intimately epic feeling that I would have expected to have had.

The acting was mediocre. Keisha Castle-Hughes stars as Mary, she was excellent when I saw her last in Whale Rider, here she actually seems to be well suited to the role, despite my not feeling the true weight of her journey. Shoreh Agdashloo, as much as I like her in some other roles, seems out of place here as Elizabeth. Her voice does not seem quite right, and she strikes me as being a bit too old for the role. Ciarin Hinds is all right as King Herod, although he doesn't really do all that much. I would have to say I felt most for Oscar Isaac's Joseph, he emoted the best, I felt more of what he was feeling than anyone else in the film.

The story itself is a wonderful one, and one that was done well here, just not great. It is slowly paced, and may threaten young ones with sleep, but is a suitable film for families, and may be a good one to see during this season, if for nothing else than to recenter what the Christmas season is about.

Bottomline. Supported by some very nice music, The Nativity Story delivers a film that is easily palatable if nothing special in the end. There could be a better film buried in here, but what we have is a mediocre movie about a momentous event. Could have been worse. I enjoyed it too an extent, more for the spirit in which it was made, rather than the execution.

Mildly Recommended.


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