So is this going to be a shared universe of biblical stories where Jim Caviezel plays Jesus and all of his followers? If so, that’s going to be one narcissistic film series for him.
The story looks like it’s about Luke, from the Bible, trying to recount Paul’s actions while he’s in prison, but meets resistance with the guards and whoever those guys are supposed to be.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have James Faulkner (ATOMIC BLONDE , THE GOOD SHEPHERD , A KID IN ALADDIN’S PALACE , and upcoming films REPEATER  and PHILOPHOBIA ), Jim Caviezel (WHEN THE GAME STANDS TALL , THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO , and G.I. JANE ), and Oliver Martinez (S.W.A.T.  and 5 episodes of REVENGE [2011 – 2015]).
Now for the crew. Directing and co-writing is Andrew Hyatt, known for a bunch of other Christian films that I’ve never heard of. Hyatt’s partner-in-pen is Terence Berden, making his screenwriting debut. Congrats, sir. Composing the score is Jan A.P. Kaczmarek, known for FINDING NEVERLAND (2004), and upcoming films VALLEY OF THE GODS (2018) and VAN GOGH (2018). The cinematographer is Gerardo Madrazo, known for stuff I’ve never heard of. Finally, the editor is Scott Richter, known for WHEN THE GAME STANDS TALL and the upcoming HONEY: RISE UP AND DANCE (2018).
Overall, I know this isn’t a Pure Flix movie, but Jesus does it look like it should be. I’m expecting quite a bit of preaching and hate fuel for anyone that isn’t religious. But I’m hoping not. I’m definitely not expecting anything good, so at best, it might just be boring.
This is my honest opinion of: PAUL, APOSTLE OF CHRIST
Set in Rome, circa AD 767. It is a dark time in Rome. Christian homes are being burnt, families are separated, murdered, some by being turned into candles in the streets. To make matters even more dire, Paul (James Faulkner) is imprisoned in Emperor Nero’s prison, sentenced to death. Learning of Paul’s imprisonment, Luke (Jim Caviezel) ventures to Rome in an attempt to write down his exploits for the future. All the while, the last large Christian community, run by Aquilla (John Lynch) and Priscilla (Joanna Whalley), are faced with an impossible decision: leave Rome with the innocent families in their care, or stay to help the lives who depend on them.
*sigh* Man, this was about to send me to sleep. Having said that, I can’t say that this is the worst religious film I’ve ever seen. I can probably say it’s the most boring, but not the best. So I guess my initial impression was correct; I was bored.
The primary reason why I was bored is because I thought the core characters were kind of dull. I don’t want to take any jabs at Paul and the impact he’s had on religion, but the character we see on screen doesn’t look like he’s suffering all that much. Privacy in his cell, allowed visitors who write about his exploits, it just seemed wrapped up a little too nicely. One would think guards would be posted everywhere around him for as important of a figure as he was and guards would be listening to the conversations he’d be having with Luke. I guess the forged papers Luke received came with some fringe benefits, but that still seems like a long shot to me. Accents are pretty inconsistent, ranging from what I can only assume are English, American, Hispanic, and quite possibly Scottish and Russian. That got really distracting. Story moments seem really glossed over. Like, there’s a scene where a man is about to be used as a candle, but the look the man shares with Luke as he watches makes it look like he’s someone we should know, but… I didn’t know who this character was. Was this grim and gruesome moment just supposed to be a grim and gruesome moment for no reason? Some subplots have predictable outcomes. Like when Tarquin (Daryl Vassallo) bravely volunteers to spy for Aquila and Priscilla, you know right away that this kid is going to get axed off and they do it pretty quickly too.
What few good things I can say about the film is that the cinematography and visuals can be pretty well done. In fact, the movie starts off promising enough by showing a haunting visual of a row of charred corpses in flames used as “candles” to light the streets at night. That certainly caught my attention. And some plot-lines are resolved in surprising and satisfying ways, so I can admit that the final half hour was pretty engaging.
Additionally, I do find that even though anything with Paul and Luke feels bland, the stuff with Aquila (John Lynch) and Priscilla (Joanne Whalley) is arguably the parts with the most engaging drama. You feel the conflict that they face. Leaving means taking the few Christians they have under their care and going to a place that would certainly welcome them with open arms, but it also means abandoning the many oppressed still in the city that rely on their hospitality, food, protection (to a smaller degree), and guidance. But staying means that they’re all huddled in one place and should the Romans find them, they’d all be executed at once, men, women, children, and entire families. To make matters even more complicated, the more youthful of them, led by Cassius (Alessandro Sperduti), wants vengeance on the Romans for the death of his young cousin, Tarquin, almost choosing to disavow their Christian beliefs altogether. Both Aquila and Priscilla have their own arguments and both desperately want to stay together, but as the conflict grows both outside of their safe-haven walls and within, they know the time is fast-approaching to make some kind of decision, and neither would be a right or wrong decision. This is the real meat of the story, if you ask me.
Overall, this isn’t a bad film, per se. It’s shot well, some visuals are striking, the acting is fine for the most part, and for a religious film that does its fair share of preaching, it does come right around and say that it’s not about converting non-believers, it’s about having faith in times of darkness and is well-supported throughout the story. But the very title character of the story and his journey from beginning to end feels rather flat and not as interesting compared to the much better-written supporting characters, and that’s a fairly wounding blow. Although I do admit that Paul’s “life if like water” monologue was really poignant and great. As far as a recommendation is concerned, I’m sure the religious will like it just fine. As for the non-religious, eh, I won’t give it a hard pass, or anything, but you’re not missing out if you choose to skip it. Were it not been for this blog and my love of expressing opinions about movies that I see, I wouldn’t see this movie myself. But for what I got, it’s not bad. It’s not great, but I didn’t feel my time was wasted. Their faith may have challenged an empire, but it won’t challenge audiences.
My honest rating for PAUL, APOSTLE OF CHRIST: 3/5