Everything you've heard about
The Passion Of The Christ is true.
And then some. It is likely one of the finest motion pictures made in modern times, if not one of the finest ever. Mel Gibson, often a self-effacing broadly comedic actor (even in such serious fare as Braveheart and Ron Howard's Ransom, will likely be remembered more for his Lethal Weapon antics than for his brilliance behind the camera. It's just the way our pop psyche works. The fact that Gibson is one of the greatest directors of our time will be overshadowed by car chase antics with Joe Pesci, antics that, had they not existed, would probably have earned Gibson a little more benefit of the doubt with his masterpiece The Passion of The Christ. Gibson makes a good target because of his pop favorite stature and his devotion to Traditionalism, a fringe Catholic faith that rejects the Vatican II reforms of 1962-65 and, as a result, does not recognize the current Pope. And, while the truth is anyone making a Passion Play invites both praise and contempt, Gibson's edgy, nutty eccentricity fairly demands both.
Without all of the hype and accusations of
The Passion of The Christ might have been Gibson's small master-piece. A beautiful and personal art film that may have quietly come and gone had any other director's name been in the opening credits. A shorter and, believe it or not, somewhat less violent Braveheart— a little too short for my taste. The Passion seemed trimmed to a neat two hours perhaps out of concern that, had things gone the other way, had the film been rejected by the audience, theatres might be stuck with a three-hour albatross rather than a very trim, very neat, very well-paced two hours. In that two hours, things move along at an unexpectedly brisk pace, but Gibson may have made this a bit too lean.
I would have liked the extra hour for a more expanded view of Christ's ministry, and to understand why He was such a threat to the religious leaders of the day. Gibson takes absolutely for granted that his audience will understand the very complex motives of the religious leaders of the day, and skips any examination of why they do what they do. As a result, the religious leaders are reduced to single-note mustache-twirling villains, with precious few glimpses of division among them over the inevitable fate of the heretic Jesus. Normally, this would just be a matter of poor choice or poor writing, had these particular religious leaders not been Jewish.