Passion of Christ Review

by John Ulmer (johnulmer2003 AT msn DOT com)
March 29th, 2004


***** / *****

(Rating: 5/5)

Icon Pictures presents a film directed and co-written by Mel Gibson. Starring James Caviezel and Monica Bellucci. Rated R for sequences of graphic violence.

REVIEW BY JOHN ULMER (Copyright, 2004)

Here's a film that makes me ashamed to call myself a critic. I feel ashamed for every prejudiced film reviewer who gave "The Passion of the Christ" a negative rating simply because they are dominantly biased towards the movie. Because they are all hypocrites - I have done my research prior to writing this article, and I cannot mention a single negative review of this film that is written without the same amount of hatred towards Mel Gibson's project as his very condemners claim exists within his movie. Every negative review I have read thus far is boiling with blunt arrogance, ignorance, and immature claims. Even some of my favorite film critics give "The Passion of the Christ" little other than a few short paragraphs of why it is so forgettable. Not a single review mentions the technical aspects of the film (direction, cinematography, music, narrative). All the reviews more or less make a short statement on why Mel Gibson has lost his mind, and why the Bible is either true or false.

Wake up, people. This movie does not settle down to the fact of whether you are a believer or not. I saw atheists leaving the theater with just as much emotional impact as the Christians. Because they seemed to give the movie a chance - unlike the critics - which amounts towards something.

Because for anyone who looks past the surface, and actually cares enough to look at the film as an account of a potentially true story (relating to your own personal beliefs), it's a masterpiece. I doubt another film this year will surpass its majesty, its beauty, its carefully crafted structure, its narrative drive, its emotional impact, and all other great aspects found within the movie. This is, simply put, a masterpiece. Just because it's about religion doesn't mean it should be graded any differently than other epics of its nature.

To grade a movie based on your own beliefs is wrong - and that is precisely what so many critics have done with "The Passion of the Christ." "It's racist!" "It's anti-Semitic!" "It's violent!" "It's silly!" "It's boring!" "It's too violent!" So many incorrect "facts," that aren't even a matter of opinion. You cannot take it upon yourself to decide whether this film is too violent. Audiences will decide for themselves.

I am going to be the first critic to ask my readers to completely ignore everything I have to say and see the film on their own accord. Because "The Passion" is the most wide-split and controversial film I have ever witnessed. Not controversial in the vein of "Taxi Driver" or "Midnight Cowboy," but in overall effect. Some people will love it, some will hate it, some will tear apart its morals because they are unbelievers and find the whole project ridiculous.

This is truly the first film I've ever reviewed where I think what the critics have to say cannot even be used as a guideline as to whether the film is good or not. Because all critics should be unbiased, and they usually are, even if they dislike something. They might not like "Spider-Man" the comic book, but they'll grade the film on what it accomplishes. Religion, however, is something entirely different.
See the movie and decide for yourself.

I'm not going to delve into the story, because anyone who has ever been a child has undoubtedly been told the story of Christ. (Even if you're an atheist, chances are you've grown up in some type of religious environment - mild or strong - that you have since rejected in your adulthood.) Instead, I have decided to do something I have seen no other critic do - judge this project on its actual filmmaking.
Mel Gibson's third directorial project is a stunning example of powerful filmmaking. Gibson has literally gambled everything on "The Passion," and it has certainly paid off. I can't even express everything that works in this movie, because it would be ruining what so many of you should see for yourselves.

As a film, graded against other epics, "The Passion" stands strong. If you can leave your religion (or lack thereof) at the door, and see this movie as it is intended to be seen, its power is undeniable - both in literal aspects and spiritual ones. And if I had to judge the movie based solely upon its story, I would still commend it - this is truly the first account of Christ's life that abandons the pleasant story tale images and reveals it the way it would have happened.
Mel, known for his violent film past, is the perfect candidate for this. The movie is unflinching in its graphic nature, yet is smart - and respectful of its audience - enough to pull away when the violence is unnecessary. People who tell you it's nothing but blood and guts are lying - take, for instance, the scene where Jesus is whipped. Once we've seen enough, Gibson pulls the camera away and focuses on the face of a spectator, and we simply *hear* the lashes. This is, in a way, even more chilling than exploitation could ever be. Gibson is smart enough to use techniques such as this throughout the film. Too bad so many ignorant, prejudiced critics and filmgoers refuse to acknowledge this fact.

"The Passion" is the best version of Christ's crucifixion to date. Bold, stirring, and truly powerful, this is the story the way it has been waiting to be told for years and years. For once, people who abandoned Christianity due to its absurdity might find some sense of realism in this. It doesn't seem so very far-fetched anymore, and the images of an unstained, clothed Christ hanging peacefully on a cross with a pleasant crown of thorns has finally been replaced by an image that portrays how this event would have truly taken place.

I cannot say enough good things about this movie, both in terms of technical filmmaking and how Mel has stayed true to the source. Alas, all I can manage to express is my extreme gratitude towards Mel Gibson for making a respectable version of a tale that has been dumbed down one too many times, and a movie that stands on its own as a masterful epic to rival that of recent, such as "Braveheart" and "The Lord of the Rings."

Gibson's passion is what drives "The Passion" towards exceeding excellence. Well done, Mel. One of the best actors of our time has turned out two of the best films of all time. I simply cannot wait to see his next movie, even if it takes another nine years.


I. "The Passion of the Christ" has come under attack for being the "most violent movie ever made." It is not. Last year's "Kill Bill" was more graphic and bloody than this film - and "Kill Bill" was not extreme in the first place. "The Passion" is simply realistic, and true, and yes, sometimes quite violent. But it is not *the* most violent movie ever made, and I never flinched a single time during the film, and I didn't see or hear anyone else do so either. At most, there were a few gasps during the crucifixion scene.

Anyone who thinks this is the most violent film ever made is saying so to either harm the film's reputation or increase its popularity.
II. "The Passion of the Christ" is not ant-Semitic, and anyone who says otherwise is once again trying to harm the film's reputation (but they have inadvertently only made it even more popular and controversial than ever before). "The Passion" is the most accurate retelling of Christ's crucifixion ever told on film, and if any Jewish audiences feel offended, perhaps they should watch the movie again. "Love your enemies," Jesus tells his disciples. Mel's hand hammers the nail into Jesus' hands, as symbolism that he has committed this sin. And if anything, the Roman guards are the portrayed as the "bad guys," anyway - the Jews simply command that Jesus be crucified. In fact, a Jewish man helps carry Jesus' cross, and feels sorry for him. Please, tell me, where is this supposed anti-Semitism? Because a crowd of Jews rally for Jesus to be killed? Well, then, I suppose the Bible is anti-Semitic, too. Apparently, nothing can be told today without offending someone, somewhere. But yet it seems as if the Jewish community are more eager to expose this than any other - where were the cries from offended Germans when "Schindler's List" came out? "Saving Private Ryan"? Were the Germans not portrayed as ruthless villains in that movie? Did a German soldier not return at one point and kill the man who spared his life? Yet Germany has kept quiet about their Hollywood treatment for years. Why? Because they know that it's almost entirely true, and if they spoke up it would cause outrage. Mel should not be judged by his father, Hutton Gibson, a known anti-Semitic. His film should be judged on its own accord, and if this is done, many more people will appreciate the film.

Because if we are living in a world where nothing can be told accurately, even if it's about a certain group of people that did something bad at one point or another in the history of the world, then we might as well all give up now.

- John Ulmer
e-mail: [email protected]

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