MOVIE REVIEW: Paul, Apostle of Christ

(Image courtesy of CTMG)

(Image courtesy of CTMG)


Removing the religious marrow from the bones of Paul, Apostle of Christ will not weaken the story being told by the film.  At its core, the reverent desire to document an enlightened jailed man’s life story before his pending death is a respectful measure of learning and commitment anyone from any walk of life can appreciate.  Moreover, when the purpose of recording is to carry on the prisoner’s mission, the sense of regard grows. Once the spiritual gravity of the “who” and the “what” is applied, the importance of this chronicle increases even further.

The “who” is Paul of Tarsus, played by TV veteran James Faulkner of Downton Abbey, the former Saul who reformed his persecuting ways after witnessing the resurrected Jesus Christ.  The “what” is his life story of conversion, redemption, and the decades teaching the gospel of Christ ever since.  The man who has come to join Paul behind bars and transcribe his history is Luke, played by the headlining Jim Caviezel.  The intervention of the fellow future saint would become monumental as Luke would become the future author of one-quarter of the entire New Testament.

LESSON #1: MOVING ORAL TRADITION INTO WRITTEN WORDS-- We tell our family and friends stories, often over and over, that we hope they remember and maybe even tell their own kids someday.  Sometimes, we wish we would have written them down, either our own or the ones we heard that we didn’t want to forget. Oral tradition is a lovely thing, but there is a helpful extension of legacy or special permanence that comes with documentation.  

More than thirty years after the days of Christ, the declining Paul is being held by the Roman guard, led by the virulent Mauritius (former Unfaithful heartthrob Olivier Martinez).  Pacifistic or not, he is seen by Emperor Nero to be a firebrand for an invasive faith against that of Roman polytheism.  Reviled public sentiment that burns their bodies in the streets and the cruel threat of imprisonment leading to circus arena death sentences have pushed the followers of Christ into hidden secrecy, a core rabble led by Aquila and Priscilla (Irish actor John Lynch and the long-lost Joanne Whalley of Willow) trying to establish a steady church in the capital city.  A radical and impulsive few among them want to take up arms against Nero’s soldiers and persecuting policies.

The arrival of Luke, a Greek physician by trade, brings another presence of peace and leadership during critical times.  Jim Caviezel’s dedication within this genre should surprise no one after The Passion of the Christ.  His stalwartness here multiplies the substance of Paul, Apostle of Christ and its patient nuance to avoid repeated platitudes and any preening hero worship.  He was never going to be a weakness in a film like this.

Paul, Apostle of Christ tells this final arc of Paul in prototypical biopic form.  Luke has come to learn from Paul and collect his testimony of wisdom.  At the same time, Mauritius is an inquisitive authority member who seeks to also learn about his prisoner and his plight filled with what he considers to be supernatural tales.  Paul’s orated recollections to both men spark cinematic slow-motion flashbacks set often to the fitting ethereal strings and tense percussion from Oscar-winning composer Jan A.P. Kaczmarek (Finding Neverland).   These narrative extensions help to enhance the storytelling and build fortitude with little indelicate proselytization.  

It is in these frequent conversational speeches that director Andrew Hyatt’s scripting and James Faulkner’s proud performance solidifies the moral and artistic integrity of this film.  Shot often asymmetrically to capture Paul’s dire surroundings, the character’s presence remains tremendous. Rarely ever raising his voice yet piercing souls with his weathered and chiseled eyes above a bushy beard, you hang on his every word.  Faulkner’s commendable portrayal of passivity to match the peaceful character and never over-act is entirely impressive. Unless you knew his name and resume, you would never guess that this was the same man who played the horndog Uncle Geoffrey for three Bridget Jones films.

LESSON #2: GRACE OVER SIN AND POWER-- Lifting off higher than the film’s biographical simplicity are the central messages of Paul’s teachings.  Instead of the actors being spotlighted, the virtues are. Paul speaks often of goodwill and merciful favor being greater than the illusions of superiority found in the perceived rewards of power and sin.  The future saint is the kind of man where the love at the center of his faith is all he needs.

LESSON #3: PEACE ABOVE ALL-- To take Lesson #2 a step further, Paul is convinced that followers of Christ must demonstrate unbreakable piety in the face of the many evil threats against them. Retaliations to persecution are not the ways of Jesus.  Peace through love is what endures above dishonor, selfishness, and anger. Such is a difficult path, but a necessary and inspiring one in Paul’s eyes. Hyatt’s film comports itself well to share these beliefs in an artful and compelling fashion.