Paul, Apostle of Christ. A Film Review.
I begin this review with a disclaimer—I don’t generally like movies that are based on the Bible. There are exceptions like The Ten Commandments or The Passion of the Christ. I tend to view these movies with my scholarly glasses firmly planted on my face. Thus I compare the movie to the biblical text, and what movie can live up to the beauty, genius, and truth of the biblical text?
Paul, Apostle of Christ is not based on the biblical text. It is based on historical tradition that comes after the final events of the Book of Acts. Thus, I was able to take off my scholarly glasses and wear my ordinary sit-back-and-enjoy-the-movie glasses. And I did enjoy the movie. And it inspired me was well. That combination of enjoyment and inspiration is rare.
On February 13th, as a pre-Valentines Day date, my wife and I went to see a preview of the movie Paul, Apostle of Christ. Perhaps the film is misnamed? Perhaps it should be called, Luke and Paul, Followers of Jesus because the movie equally highlights the story of Luke and his partnership in the gospel with Paul, as it does Paul’s life.
The movie begins with Luke entering the city of Rome after the Emperor Nero torches over half the city in order to rebuild certain districts. Nero blames Christians for igniting the fire and then goes on to order the persecution of Christians.
Roman soldiers stake Christians to crosses, douse them with oil, and set them on fire, creating Roman candles which light the streets of Rome at night. The intense persecution of Christians is a major theme in the movie. The film is dedicated to persecuted Christians around the world.
The setting of the Roman persecution of Christians gives an eerie and gruesome tone to the film. It also gives the movie a deserved PG-13 rating for its “Disturbing Images and Some Violent Content.”
Warning: there are many brutal and gory scenes in the movie. Some of the images stay with you long after you leave the theatre. But in my opinion, that’s a good thing. The Bible is at least PG-13 in its content. The history of the persecution of the early Christians should make a person wince.
Before you show the movie to a general church audience, you should consider the depiction of violence in the film and share with your audience that the movie was not made for a young people or for the faint of heart.
The film is distributed by Sony Pictures and has a March 23rd release date (just in time for Easter).
I appreciated the acting in the movie. The actors were high quality actors. James Caviezel, who is known for his role as Jesus in The Passion of the Christ plays Luke. Caviezel also played Reese, a highly trained mercenary, in the television series Person of Interest. In this film I kept waiting for Caviezel to turn into Reese and rid the streets of the Roman soldiers, but that never happened. Instead, as Luke, Mr. Caviezel struggled with the plight of his brothers and sisters as they prayed to stay faithful in the midst of hardship and persecution.
A major theme of the film is how evil cannot be resisted with evil. That’s not the way of Jesus. The way of Jesus is the way of love. This is a message the church today needs to hear and reflect on.
James Faulkner plays Paul. He does an admirable job with the role. The Roman courts have sentenced Paul to execution. Paul spends his last days rotting in a dank, dark cell in the worst prison in Rome remembering his past misdeeds as he persecuted the church making wives widows and children orphans. Paul is tortured by memories of his days as Saul of Tarsus. In the words of St. John of the Cross, this moment is Paul’s “dark night of soul.”
Paul also reflects on his ministry as a missionary as he planted churches across the Mediterranean. He shares these memories with Luke. Ultimately this refection becomes the book of the Acts of the Apostles. The theme of grace appears throughout Paul’s dialogue with Luke. Paul clings to the words of Jesus, “My grace is sufficient for you.”
The biblical characters Pricilla and Aquila play an important role in the story. As does Mauritius, the Roman soldier in charge of the prison that houses Paul.
Overall, I enjoyed the movie. It is rare that you see a film that based on the Bible that is this gritty, raw, compelling, well-directed, and superbly acted. The film will stick with you for a few days. And isn’t that what good films should do? Shouldn’t they make you think? This film makes you put yourself in the place of Luke, Paul, or Pricilla and ask, “What would I have done if I had faced what they faced?”
The answer to that question doesn’t come from reflecting on what you might have done almost two millennia ago in Rome, but from what you are willing to do today as a disciple of Jesus.
Tertullian argued that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” In other words, persecution, instead of destroying the church, advanced the Jesus movement.
Today most of us don’t face persecution. Not like Paul, Pricilla, and the early disciples faced it. We face a plague of complacency, mediocrity, comfort, materialism, and apathy. So what are we to do?
Let’s draw inspiration from our early brothers and sisters who were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice and give up their lives for Jesus. Let’s decide that every day we will take up the cross of Jesus and die to selfishness, indifference, insecurity, fear, and doubt.
Let’s remember that our first-century brothers and sisters were ignited as human torches, also known as Roman candles, to light the streets of Rome, and let’s ignite a fire within our hearts that will shine through our lives to light the streets and roads of our cities, towns, and village.
If the task seems to large then remember the words of Jesus that motivated the Apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you.”
Grace and Peace,
Dr. G. Steve Kinnard