Trade one Jesus movie, you get another. These used to be like westerns: rare.
Alright, well once again, there isn’t much to say about how I got into this movie. Saw a trailer for it and thought, “Jesus Begins. The Bible Origins: Jesus Christ.” Just thinking of any funny and possibly more appropriate origin story title to give it. Being a non-religious man myself, I can never get hyped for these kinds of films. While I will always be open-minded enough to want to be challenged, these stories have a knack for just hammering in religious beliefs and basically saying everything that we already know: Jesus rocks! I wasn’t expecting anything spectacular. But regardless of hype, I saw it. So this my honest opinion of THE YOUNG MESSIAH.
The story follows a seven-year-old Jesus (Adam Greaves-Neal). He has begun to show signs of his powers by bringing dead things back to life. Unfortunately, his abilities aren’t seen as a blessing, but rather a sign of the devil. However, his adoptive father takes the family from their home in Egypt back to Nazareth. However, as Jesus’ powers manifest and make him a target for those threatened by him, Jesus is refused answers to his questions as his family tries to find balance in giving Jesus a real childhood and the life that he is destined to have.
FUN FACT: this movie is based on an Anne Rice novel, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt.
Ugh… no. Just no. It’s RISEN. Not even kidding, it’s basically the last Jesus movie, only this time the focus is on a child Jesus instead of the guy tasked with hunting and killing Jesus. Seriously, here’s the story: Jesus does good stuff, king or ruler doesn’t like that, sends his top dude to hunt and kill Jesus, top dude ends up being too enamored to do anything once he’s found.
And similar to RISEN, this idea had potential. Now, I’m not saying this as a man who knows jack about the Bible or any details regarding Jesus’ life, other than the ever important “he died for our sins” stuff, or even read the novel that this movie is based on, but as an idea itself, this movie could have been good. It does raise a question: what was Jesus like as a kid? Was he still a savior of sorts? Did he know what he was? This could have easily been a character study in what would go through a child’s mind if he found out that he was not only just a child of God, which would be a pretty compelling psychological story in itself, but also the future savior of all mankind. Would something like that humble a kid of seven years? Frighten him? Is it something he’d try to reject? All of these questions get tossed into the “ehhh not really” category.
Now, this is no attack on Greaves-Neal, he’s a young kid and being your first feature-length film debut as Jesus Christ that’s a tough pair of shoes to fill out. His bland, emotionless acting in the beginning is not his fault. Actors by nature have to rely on their directors a lot, and if the director can’t get bring out the best performance in an actor, the movie as a whole suffers and the actors are usually to blame for the performance. This may not always be the case, but it happens more often than the average movie-goer may expect. But in this case, I blame the director, Cyrus Nowrasteh because Greaves-Neal’s acting does pick up later on the film. In the beginning, Jesus is hanging out with his friend and suddenly gets picked on by a bully. At no point does Jesus bat an eyelash or even really emote. He just… stands there and looks at the bully. But later on when he meets the devil, and shown visions of a burning Jerusalem, he’s crying, shaking, on his knees praying, defiantly shouting at the devil to not touch him, it’s actually pretty cool to see. So why is the beginning the one place where no good acting is warranted? My guess, bad directing.
Speaking of an emotionless beginning, that’s actually the worst part of the movie. It’s boring. Because few people seem to be invested in their own predicament, how can anyone in the audience? In fact, because this film is so similar to RISEN, I admit to falling asleep sometime during the middle. If it isn’t giving or raising stakes, it’s being random. There’s a scene where Jesus is happily running through a field (quite a shift in tone after bringing back a dead boy just ten minutes ago). Jesus turns a corner and encounters a squad of Roman soldiers… who suddenly get attacked by… you know, I missed who those people were. Insurgents, I guess? I wouldn’t know and I didn’t much care in the end, mostly because the movie doesn’t really care in the end either. These insurgents, or whoever they are, don’t make another appearance in the story.
It’s not long after this set of scenes, as well as some hardcore reciting of passages from the Bible, I fell asleep. As I cannot abide myself sleeping through a movie, I had to see this movie a second time. Know what I missed? Not much. A ruler hallucinates snakes for some reason, Sean Bean bullies information out of people, and some other stuff that I can’t remember because I didn’t care.
Funny enough, about the time when I woke up and finally bridged what I missed, that’s about when the movie picks up a little. Greaves-Neal’s acting picks up and he’s actually showing emotion, the tension of him learning why he can do what he can do builds up, and his family trying desperately to keep Jesus from growing up too fast starts peaking, it’s actually pretty solid.
Even the finale, there’s a final confrontation between Jesus and Bean’s character, Severus (insert Harry Potter reference here). It’s actually pretty awesome as the devil’s been whispering things in Severus’ ear to kill Jesus, but little Jesus is just staring him down, unafraid and Severus just lets him go with his family to safety. Severus goes back to the king/ruler guy who hallucinates snakes and the movie ends with Jesus being told his destiny and he still acts like a kid who knows he has to die someday (glad to see he’s taking it so well).
At the end of the day, this movie had a lot of material to work with, but instead opted to pander to the religious community. This isn’t a story we haven’t heard or seen before and ends up being pretty forgettable. I really hope Greaves-Neal finds better roles in the future, as he isn’t a half bad actor when he’s given proper direction, but this movie could very well end his career before it begins and that’d be a shame if that happened.
My honest rating: A weak 3/5